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Posts Tagged ‘Hendrick Motorsports’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Proved Me Wrong

Posted by chadmusselman on November 21, 2011

Back in January of this year I asked the question, “Will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?”  I emphatically said “No”, and that Earnhardt has already peaked and should hope the rest of his career doesn’t end up like Kyle Petty’s.  I also said the changes Hendrick was putting in place to get Earnhardt back into the chase would hurt the rest of the team.  Boy was I wrong about Earnhardt.

The 2011 season has easily been the best for Earnhardt since 2008.  He showed that he can still run with the elite drivers, staying in the top ten in points almost all season and making the chase.  Sure, he didn’t make much noise in the chase, but that’s not the point.  The point is that he made it and finished 7th in points, by far better than I ever thought.  Earnhardt didn’t get that elusive win, but he did finish in the top five 4 times and in the top ten 12 times.  That’s the most since the 2008 season.  His 14.6 place average finish in 2011 is also his best since the 2008 season.

To add to the success on the track for Earnhardt, he signed a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017 season.  Rick Hendrick was talking about the contract extension at the beginning of the season, at which time I said he should be looking to let the current contract expire and dump Earnhardt.  Well, if this season is any indicator of what’s to come, Rick Hendrick once again made the right decision by finalizing Jr’s contract in early September.

One member of the Hendrick stable that could have been negatively affected by the changes that Hendrick instituted was Mark Martin.  In the pit crew and team shuffle, Earnhardt got Jeff Gordon’s 2010 team, Jeff Gordon got Mark Martin’s 2010 team, and Mark Martin got Earnhardt’s 2010 team.  Mark Martin easily had one of his worst seasons in recent years.  Martin finished 22nd in points (worst since 2008), has only 2 top five and 10 top ten finishes.  You would have to go back to the mid to late 1980’s to find a season that Mark Martin had fewer top five and top ten finishes.  His 18.2 place average finish was his worst since 2003.  Not a good season for Martin no matter how you look at it.

Maybe this helps answer part of the question, is it the driver, the car, or the pit crew that wins championships?  This shows that Earnhardt was probably working with an inferior team for a couple years before getting Jeff Gordon’s old team.  Mark Martin may be getting older, but he’s still a quality driver and the drop-off from 2010 to 2011 was significant.  I guess we know who Rick Hendrick can let go at the end of the season.  I wouldn’t want Kasey Kahne to inherit a team with that bad of a record.

Earnhardt has to be very happy about 2011, looking forward to making more strides in 2012 and getting his first win since the 2008 season.  Dale, I promise you one thing; I won’t write anything stating 2012 will be a bad season for you and that you’re washed up.  You definitely proved this year that you don’t have to get by on your popularity and you are a true contender for the championship.


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Will 2011 Be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Year?

Posted by chadmusselman on January 16, 2011

Dale has been bad, real bad, lately.  He missed making the chase in three of the last four seasons, finishing in 21st (2010), 25th (2009), 12th (2008, in the Chase), and 14th (2007).  He also hasn’t won a race since the 2008 season, and that win was two years after the one before it.  That’s right, in the past 4 full seasons Dale has only managed one win.  In the last 6 full seasons he only has three wins. 

As you probably already know, Rick Hendrick has instituted some changes in an effort to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in the winner’s circle and into the Chase.  Hendrick is basically putting Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Jeff Gordon’s car with Jeff Gordon’s crew chief and team.  Now Earnhardt’s crew chief will go over to Mark Martin, and Mark Martin’s crew chief will move over to Jeff Gordon.  Seems like a lot of change to solid teams just to hope you can make a bad driver a little better.

Another change to take place is to have Earnhardt share a shop with Johnson.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmie  Johnson were sharing one shop and Mark Martin and Earnhardt the second shop.  Now Gordon will be paired with Martin at the second shop.  I guess Rick Hendrick thinks that Earnhardt will learn from osmosis or something by bumping elbows with Jimmie Johnson, who knows.  It sure can’t hurt to be able to pick Jimmie’s brain, and maybe since they’re closer in age they’ll be able to communicate better than Martin and Earnhardt did.  I don’t see that happening though.  Jimmie will be focused on winning his 6th in a row and Earnhardt may hinder that.

A change is needed, but maybe the change shouldn’t be Rick Hendrick moving drivers around to try to help a bad driver.  Maybe the change should be letting Dale Earnhardt Jr’s contract run out after this year, and not sign the extension that they’re talking about.  I’ve said it before.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a good guy, and I like him, but he’s not a good driver.  He’s passed his peak.  Now he has to bank on being popular with the fans and hope he can win another race or two before his career ends up like Kyle Petty’s.  So, will 2011 be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s year?  No, not even close.  Let’s just hope that these changes don’t totally mess up the chemistry that Hendrick Motorsports had.

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Did Rick Hendrick Sign NASCAR’s Most Disappointing Driver?

Posted by chadmusselman on April 17, 2010

Does NASCAR’s silly season get more and more silly each year, or what?  Now we have Kasey Kahne signing with Rick Hendrick for the 2012 season, and we’re not even a quarter of the way through 2010!  The real funny thing is that Kasey doesn’t have a contract for 2011. 

Who’s going to sign him for one season?  I sure wouldn’t considering he may be the most disappointing driver in NASCAR.  My guess is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will bring Jr. Motorsports up to the Cup level next year and give Kasey a ride.  Rick Hendrick owns half of Dale’s operation already so ownership wise, it would make sense.

If the poll on this site is any indicator, the fans feel that Kasey Kahne is the most disappointing driver of 2010.  Let’s not just go on gut feeling about this one though.  Let’s take a look at some stats and see if they back up what everyone thinks.

  • 2004 – Kasey Kahne’s rookie season.  Kasey showed lots of promise finishing 12th in points with 14 top tens and 13 top fives.  At that point people thought that he could become a yearly contender for the championship. 
  • 2005 – Kasey got his first win, but had a bad season finishing 23rd in points and only collecting 8 top tens. 
  • 2006 – His best in NASCAR finishing 8th in the standings and a career high 6 wins.
  • 2007 & 2008 – Not very good for Kasey, finishing 18th and 14th in points with a combined 2 wins and 22 top tens.  Bad.
  • 2009 – A bit of a bounce-back season making the chase and finishing 10th in points with 2 wins and 14 top ten finishes.
  • 2010 – This season has been brutal.  Kasey is 26th in points and only has 2 top ten finishes.

This is Kasey Kahne’s 7th season in NASCAR, and let’s face it, he’s not a legitimate contender for the title, and probably won’t be in his career.  He’s one of the above average drivers on the circuit that will win 1 or 2 races a season and make the chase once every three years.  In 2004 & 2005 Kasey had potential, and people thought he was realizing that potential in the 2006 season, but it appears that will be the one really good season he’ll have in his career.

Because people think Kasey can still win a lot of races and contend for the championship he is the most disappointing driver in NASCAR.  He always has high hopes, but can never meet them.  People need to wake up and lower their expectations of Kasey Kahne.  He’s not that good.  Unfortunately expectations won’t be lowered when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports.

Can Hendrick Motorsports Make Him Better?
The short answer is no.  Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t do well making drivers better.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson started their career with Rick, and were awesome from the beginning and still are.  Mark Martin is a good fit for team Hendrick because he knows how to win, and has won in the past.  Kasey Kahne isn’t Mark Martin and won’t do any better with Hendrick than he’s done in past seasons. 

Jimmie and Jeff sure haven’t made Dale Earnhardt Jr. better, and they won’t make Kasey better.  They’re too busy trying to win championships to “impart knowledge” on others.  Maybe that’s a knock on those guys, but it seems to be true.  You’d think being on a team with two 4-time champions that you’d learn something, but it appears that doesn’t happen for Hendrick Motorsports.

I haven’t read how many years Kasey signed for, but I’m guessing 3 or 4.  No matter how many years the deal is for, look for Kasey to be out of the 4th Hendrick seat when the contract is up.  He may make the chase once while with the team, but the pressure will get to him, and he’ll probably finish 15th – 20th in points most years.

What do you think?  Is Kasey the most disappointing driver?  Will he do well with Hendrick Motorsports, or stay the course and always be the guy who underperforms?

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