Earnhardt manages the impossible: Win pole and never lead

We have photographic evidence that pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. led for about two second. That's him on the right and Kyle Busch on the left. (AP photo/Brian Lawdermilk)

Photographic evidence that pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. (right) led the Kobalt Tools 500 for about two seconds. He was soon passed by Kyle Busch (left). (AP photo/Brian Lawdermilk)

Considering its circuit has been plagued by empty seats, declining television ratings and a suspicion that Jimmie Johnson might be racing with an engine that has the word, “Cessna” on it, NASCAR actually had a pretty good day Sunday.

♦ Somebody other than Johnson, the sport’s four-time defending champion and winner of two of this season’s first three races, won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Alas, some semblance of competition lives for one week.

♦ There was a close finish, with two late cautions bunching the field and Kurt Busch edging Matt Kenseth by a half-second. The two late wrecks extended the race 16 laps longer than scheduled, technically making this the Kobalt Tools 524.64.

♦ Nobody died but a car flipped! Carl “The Maniac” Edwards, in payback for one of them racin’ things, a wreck at Talladega last season, rammed Brad Keselowski late in the race. Keselowski’s car went airborne and flipped but landed tires down. Edwards was black-flagged. Then he had this wonderful defense: “That’s a deal between him and I.” Keselowski’s rebuttal: “That’s not cool. He could’ve killed someone in the grandstands. I know it’s ironic to hear me saying that but I didn’t wreck him [at Talladega] intentionally.” This should be a quick prosecution by NASCAR.

OK, so that was the good stuff.

For balance, we give you Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He lost again. He started first and ran in the 30s much of the day. He finished 15th, the benefit of late caution flags. Earnhardt’s not in a slump anymore. He passed slump about 37 excuses ago.

He has failed to win in 61 straight races. He has won once in the last 138 starts.

The big problem with this is the Sprint Cup circuit is devoid of a great rivalry. Earnhardt, one of the sport’s biggest personalities, could provide that, if only he could remember how to drive.

He started on the pole Sunday. He never led a lap. I’m no racing expert, but how do you win the pole and never lead a lap?

I’ve seen dudes with road rage on 285 who have better passing instincts.

“We’re just running into some bad luck,” Earnhardt maintained. “We’re just not getting it done. We’ll get it done. When it happens, it happens. We’re just not the best team right now.”

Earnhardt should not be spreading the blame to the team. This is on him.

Cars win qualifying. Drivers win races.

Earnhardt complained of “funky right rear” tire issues in Sunday’s race. Funny thing was, every time he pulled into the pits to complain about something being “loose,” his crew couldn’t find a problem.

Let’s not blame the car. Earnhardt averaged 192.761 miles per hour in qualifying. That’s a NASCAR record since cars were redesigned (read: slowed) in 2007 for safety reasons.

Don’t blame the team, either. Hendrick Motorsports is NASCAR’s  ’27 Yankees in terms of money and resources. They’ve won nine Sprint Cup championships. Teammate Jimmy Johnson has won the last four titles. He took checkered in two of the first three races this season.

The other two team members: Mark Martin won five races last year and finished second in the standings and Jeff Gordon (82 wins) is a relative icon, and last season he had one victory, 16 top-5 finishes and finished third.

Again, that standings rundown for Hendrick’s four drivers in 2009: 1-2-3-25.

Earnhardt was passed shortly after the green flag by Kyle Busch. There’s some irony. When Earnhardt split with his evil stepmother, Teresa, then left DEI following the 2007 season and signed with Hendrick, he replaced Busch. In the two-plus seasons since that time, Busch has won 12 races, Earnhardt zero.

It was easy to paint Teresa Earnhardt, the late Dale’s wife, as the bad guy/girl in the stepmom-stepson cat fight. But when she alluded to Dale’s flood of endorsement deals and told the Wall Street Journal in 2007, “Right now the ball’s in his court to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality,” she pretty much nailed it.

Then again, if the losing continues, the public personality side of Earnhardt will fade as well.


Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

104 comments Add your comment

Cherokee

March 7th, 2010
7:12 pm

Jr. needs to give it up. He will never be the driver his father was.

mmgtfan

March 7th, 2010
7:12 pm

mmgtfan

March 7th, 2010
7:12 pm

TML

March 7th, 2010
7:13 pm

yeah i’ve about had it with him…great personality, but if you can’t take at least the first lap when you’re on the pole, something is wrong…

http://www.stinGTees.com

Cherokee

March 7th, 2010
7:13 pm

mmgtfan …typical tech fan always think they are first only to see someone else beat them.

Terd Furgeson

March 7th, 2010
7:29 pm

I was there sitting at turn 4 and Jr. was loose almost the entire race. Almost lost it a time or two.

John

March 7th, 2010
7:30 pm

For the record, Jeff, it’s Jimmie (not Jimmy) Johnson and Carl (not Karl) Edwards. Earnhardt’s struggles are hard to fathom. I thought it was a bad idea to bring Tony Eury, Jr. along with him as crew chief when he jumped to Hendrick in 2008. You could paint it as loyalty to his cousin or just wanting to work with someone he was comfortable with, but I took it as almost a lack of confidence in himself. At this point it’s hard enough for a crew chief like Lance McGrew to get a car ready week-to-week without having to worry whether or not his driver is ready to compete. Junior has the ability, but he’s more than a little lost right now. Expect another crew chief change by summer.

"Chef" Tim Dix

March 7th, 2010
7:31 pm

Wrangler has dropped Junior and replaced him with Danica who BTW looks really good in tight fittin’ jeans.

Nascar ned

March 7th, 2010
7:33 pm

Dale Jr–most overrated sports celebrity in 50 years.

Melody

March 7th, 2010
7:33 pm

Have you ever thought that he is human like everyone else. How many of you could do what he has done? How many of you could watch your father die and keep racing? But how many of you could love your father as much as he does and go back racing the next week???? He never got a break at all and all I see is crappy remarks. All I can say is if you can drive a race car better then lets see you do it. Put your money where your mouth is…..

Pi$$onaDawg

March 7th, 2010
7:43 pm

Melody get a grip I did not growup at a race track with no other real education to be anything but a racer. Dale Jr. is way too overated. Nice guy that can sell geans and softdrinks, but not drive with the best for sure.

Bonnie

March 7th, 2010
7:58 pm

LETS QUIT BLAMING EVERYONE AND CONCENTRATE ON THE REAL PROBLEM. DALE JR. IS A GREAT RACE CAR DRIVER, BUT HE HAS TO WANT IT BAD ENOUGH TO WIN. ALL HE HAS TO DO IS GET CHARGED UP ENOUGH TO DECIDE HE WANTS TO WIN, BUT NOW I BELIEVE HE ISN’T HUNGRY AND HIS HEART ISN’T IN IT. HE STAYS BECAUSE EVERYONE EXPECTS HIM TO. HE NEEDS TO CHECK ON HIS REAL THOUGHTS AND BECOME A COMMENTARY. HIS FATHER’S DEATH REMOVED THE PASSION HE HAD TO WIN TO MAKE HIS DAD PROUD.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

March 7th, 2010
7:58 pm

Dale Jr is the new Kyle Petty!

What an achievement!

C. Tampa Ironworse

March 7th, 2010
8:07 pm

Dale Sr…1st on the track, 3 on the car = 4-Ever Dale!!!! (bumper sticker I saw once)

Dale Jr…32nd on the track, don’t know his number = stinks

Every Huckleberry on the planet cries a little when Lil’ E can’t win…

nascar fan

March 7th, 2010
8:25 pm

The AJC seriously needs to hire someone to cover NASCAR and racing in general.

Dragon

March 7th, 2010
8:32 pm

Jeff, How do you stay in journalism misspelling the first names of two of the biggest stars in NASCAR. Do you have to write a correction or is spelling kind of a forgotten art in journalism? NASCAR fan is right. You guys cover NASCAR like a joke, then you send a stringer to a Georgia Tech basketball game. Every time I pick up the print copy of the AJC it looks like the Weakly Reader.

godless heathen

March 7th, 2010
8:32 pm

Kyle never got the hype that Junior has. I feel for the boy, it’s not his fault that such high expectations were put on him, but it is becoming apparent that he is not the 2nd greatest driver ever as Earnhardt Nation seems to believe.

Mr Charlie

March 7th, 2010
8:34 pm

AJC needs someone covering Nascar about as much as they need someone to cover rasslin, because they are pretty much the same thing.

Topp Dogg

March 7th, 2010
8:45 pm

Dale =BEST TEAM ,MOST MONEY,SUCK AS A DRIVER, JUST THE FACTS.

JB

March 7th, 2010
8:53 pm

What Dragon said…I can’t take this seriously when you can’t spell names. Your site should not bother covering NASCAR if this is the quality of coverage.

“Earnhardt should not be spreading the blame to the team”…he never has Jeff. You would know that if you followed the sport or did any research. Wow. I just wasted 10 mins of my life.

ASHEVILLE DAWG

March 7th, 2010
9:27 pm

earnhardt is “killing” Daddy Dale’s legacy! Where would he finish with a second tier team? What’ss finish is after last?

Bo Williams

March 7th, 2010
9:39 pm

Jr. reminds me of UGa football, much bluster, little performance.

catsFly

March 7th, 2010
9:41 pm

Bo, I hear you. Best players, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da, mediocre performance.

Jeff Schultz

March 7th, 2010
10:06 pm

TML — Agreed.

Jeff Schultz

March 7th, 2010
10:07 pm

John — Thanks. Both those typos were fixed.

Jeff Schultz

March 7th, 2010
10:12 pm

Chef Tim — Sounds like a definite upgrade.

Jeff Schultz

March 7th, 2010
10:14 pm

NASCAR — you might have a point there. That overrated list might have the makings of a blog.

Jeff Schultz

March 7th, 2010
10:16 pm

Dragon — the typos were fixed and only up online for a couple of hours. Now correct through and is correct in print.

Wally

March 7th, 2010
10:38 pm

What NASCAR needs is some Southern boys back in the mix. The pasty-skinned milktoast midwesterners and Cali-boys have taken over the sport. While they are good drivers (some very good), they are BORING and Stock Car Racing has become a BORING way to waste a Sunday afternoon. Junior isn’t the best out there, but at least he has some personality. Get rid of the sissies and bring back some of the good old boys!

bigstack19

March 7th, 2010
11:45 pm

Junior has never tried to be his daddy. That said, maybe he should try that. Nothing else is working. He had ridden the Earnhardt name as far as he can. It is time for him to either win or go home. Sadly, as long as he continues racing he will always get a big time ride with a big time sponsor keeping a much more deserving driver searching for work.

Rusty Nutt

March 8th, 2010
12:26 am

If Jr. would just come out of the closet. I have nothing against Jr. personally but I am homophobic

Reid Adair

March 8th, 2010
12:58 am

Today was a perfect example that a good qualifying set-up and a good race set-up are not the same thing. They’re not even close.

There was a time when Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the talent and the potential for a great career as a driver. Then endorsements, sponsorships and issues off the track took that away from him.

Jen

March 8th, 2010
4:12 am

Sr’s death did not stop Jr from winning, he was quite successful for a good while after Sr. died.
I think he let the success go to his head and instead of keeping up with changes, working w/ his team and focusing on racing,,,Jr was building a ghost town, opening a night club and partying all night in it, driving other cars and getting burned………….I remember when he would finish 3rd and would complain about the car/pit stops/tires/etc…. and now for him 3rd would be a miricle.
Jr is all washed up…….sorry Jr Nation, reality, reality.

lanier

March 8th, 2010
6:07 am

spot on Reid

GEORGIA97

March 8th, 2010
6:55 am

Schultz, you have the IQ of Tickle-Me-Elmo when it comes to NASCAR so please stop trying to write about the sport. Anyone who pays even a little bit of attention knows that how a car is set up for qualifying and in race trim is completely different, hence how Jr. won the pole but couldn’t lead a single lap. You probably think the cars have automatic transmissions and air conditioning too, ya dummy,

lin

March 8th, 2010
6:58 am

i felt all along he will not admit this but he afraid that what happen to dad will happen to him. people he is human and that will never be admitted by him. he is jr not sr and we can not compare the two or want him to be like his dad. its not fair to him . he needs take year off and relax and do what ever he wants to get his head and heart on track to continue race or not.

Jethro

March 8th, 2010
7:14 am

Dale Earnhardt Jr = Kyle Petty

fred

March 8th, 2010
7:43 am

earnfart is the tony danza of auto-racing, a no talent hack…..

Mikey in the SAV

March 8th, 2010
7:48 am

Hendrick cars= the best on the track.
They share setups and he still cannot perform= lack of something.
Lack of ability to give good feedback on the car’s handling…lack of ability to process info and make necessary changes.
face it…he isnt the smartest one out there is he?

Tom

March 8th, 2010
7:49 am

Jr had his time in the spotlight. The Budweiser #8 was the most popular car on the track for a few years. With the money his father made and what he’s made on his own, I’m sure he’ll be fine.

russdawg

March 8th, 2010
7:50 am

Lil’ E is washed up. Why does media keep throwin the luv and attention ??? And who knew Carl Edwards was such a tool ? That Moron should be banned from 2 points races and see if he can calm down.

toga

March 8th, 2010
8:10 am

Dale Jr. is the Georgia Bulldogs of racing.

Sandie

March 8th, 2010
8:13 am

Finally someone gets it! Dale SR saw what Teresa said, JR can not keep his mind on driving! SR tried to get JR to focus!

Clay

March 8th, 2010
8:15 am

Jeff, if you think Dawg fans are fanatical, just give the Jr fans a few hours to find this post! If a female shoots you a bird at the grocery store, just mouth the words, “I’m sorry.” Keep a 12-pack of Bud iced down in your car incase you get confronted by a white, middle-aged gang, all wearing something with “3.” Just pass the Bud out, tell them you loved Dale, Sr and, you hate Teresa, and they’ll be okay.
Do these things and you will get through the next couple of weeks without getting your feelings (or your butt) hurt!
Lastly, think, Jeff before you type

Pi$$onaDawg

March 8th, 2010
8:19 am

Carl Edwards I love it! Payback is a Bi..h. Keselowski got what was coming. Carl is one of the nicest guys on the track but how many times does Brad get to wreck Carl before Carl returns the FAVOR. HAHAHAH I guess we know now. Maybe NASCAR can get the Bobby & Cale type feuds going again.

Roe D. Rage

March 8th, 2010
8:19 am

I think I’d rather watch traffic on I-285 than watch Earnhardt race …

Clay

March 8th, 2010
8:24 am

Right, Bo, except Jr doesn’t have a Tech to kick around even when times are tough …

tom

March 8th, 2010
8:37 am

Little E needs to retire and be an owner. That does not require any driving skills. It is all on him. He isn’t cut out for this sport. He is another Kyle Petty with a fan base. He does not have the win at all costs attitude that got his father his fame. He doesn’t need to be his father. Just show some skills and determination and quit making excuses. Hang it up. Junior Nation is a PR dream that just willl not result in even a win occassionnally.

Dale Sr.

March 8th, 2010
8:40 am

How about laying off Junior. He’s not his daddy, hell no-one is his daddy. It is not uncommon for a driver to win the pole and not lead a lap, especially on the super speedways. Jr. did not annoint himself any kind of hero. That was done by you media hacks. When he did not live up to what you thought he should , you skewer him.

Dude

March 8th, 2010
8:45 am

When will people admit that Dale Jr. is NOT a good racecar driver. He is ruining his daddy’s name. He can still do a heckuva redneck Nationwide commercial though. “Fity five-Fity five.” Hey JR. , there are TWO F’s in FiFty!!!