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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Analyzing Dale Jr.’s radio chatter misses the point … problems much deeper at #88 team

Associated Press photo
Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. during a test session Tuesday at Lowe‘s Motor Speedway

In the minds of many, this was supposed to be his year … the year he finally followed in his father’s big footsteps.

Joining the powerhouse that is Hendrick Motorsports was supposed to be the key that NASCAR's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., needed to unlock his true potential and claim a championship.

He started off the year strong, and was the best Hendrick team for a while. But since mid-season, something has been off at the #88 team. Many blame his crew chief and cousin Tony Eury Jr., and have called for his removal.

Rick Hendrick said recently that Dale Jr. needs to better control his emotions as he chats with Eury during the races. But the head honcho is blinding himself to the real problem and focusing on something that doesn’t really mean that much.

Emotions are not what’s ailing the team. Missed setups, and not being able to fix them during the races, are what will likely leave Jr. without a title this year.

How often do we see the 88 car get off to a great start, run toward the front all day, then fade at the end and not finish strong? The car and track change, but his team doesn’t make the appropriate fixes to keep the car up front. Either Jr. isn’t effectively conveying to Eury what is going on with the car, or they’re not listening very well and making the wrong fixes. Or maybe it’s a little of both.

I suppose it’s possible that the team is just in a funk and Jr. will make a series of top-5 runs over the next month and get back in the title hunt. No one expected Greg Biffle to make the run he’s had over the past two weeks, and now he’s now a legitimate title contender

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The consistency just hasn’t been there lately, and he would have to have strong runs for the remaining eight races to hope for any shot at the title.

If things continue as they are, Jr. will likely finish mid-pack in the Chase and further feed the viewpoint of many of his detractors that he’s just not championship material.

I don’t subscribe to that view, and believe he’ll claim a title during his career. But this year doesn’t seem to be his year. If the Chase plays out in the same frustrating manner much of the season has for Jr., it will be in Hendrick’s interest to make some adjustments on the personnel side of the #88 team … either crew chief, mechanics, pit crew or anything else it takes to make the team better … whether Jr. likes it or not.

Defending Kyle Busch
I never thought I’d do this, but I have to stand up for the man many call “vile Kyle” for a second. I saw some media members criticize Kyle Busch’s comments after the race, where he declared his title hopes officially dead.

These people believe these comments are proof of their assertion Busch would fold under the pressure of the Chase.

I have to say that’s a bit harsh, and even downright misleading. Busch made a kamikaze dive from on top of the world to without a title shot due to factors completely out of his control. Human error by a team member ruined his day at Loudon (and he did a great job all day driving a car that wanted to wreck every turn), then his engine gives out at Dover after Mark Cronquist and his people had given Kyle so many great ones all season.

Busch didn’t fold at all. He was the victim of some very terrible luck, and was just being honest about his chances in the Chase after his horrific start. It’s pretty hard to come out of a hole that deep when you’re competing against the 11 other best drivers out there. Pretty much all of them would have to screw up or have a lot of bad luck.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand your comment about Vile Kyle. Do you doubt his words, or how he said them. Anyone can second guess what Vile meant, but his words were "This happened to us last year, exactly the same" He said I have 0 chances of winning the championship. His words.
What may, or will happen in this chase any of the 12 could can win the championship. If I paid any attention to the you the media, I wouldn't have bothered to watch a race, because it was a one man Chase Vile Kyle. Now it's Biffle's, next week it may be Jeff Burton's chase. Until we are able to write it in concrete, enjoy what the CHASE is about, anyone of the 12 can still win it, as it winds down you all can say I told ya so's. For now I would like just the facts, and not your F rating in POP sociality.

September 25, 2008 at 7:53 AM 
Blogger Mr. Echo said...

I agree! Why focus on the chatter? Focus on the meat of the issue: Tony Eury Jr. can't tweak a set up to save his career. Like Junior said once on the radio "Read a frickin book or something". I was quite dissapointed when Eury followed him to Hendricks, but hoped maybe he'd learn something. Apparently, not yet.

It's clear Hendricks is giving Dale superior equipment, but the cousin screws it up. And Dale, yeah, I think he could start lifting some weights and running. If nothing else it might help him deal with the stress of being who he is.

I don't give a whip about Kyle. It's just satisfying to see karma in action, that's all. He could dissapear from the sport and I'd hardly notice.

September 25, 2008 at 1:36 PM 
Anonymous Ed said...

Matt and Echo, you both are all wet and your comments show a complete lack of education in the garage area. Matt I could care less if you live in the garage area. You guys haven't a clue what it takes to be on a team and turn wrenches. I do to a degree. I have been on a leading Cup team some years ago. This stuff is hard as hell. And now they have 25 computers per car to help.

The COT is extremely finiky. They are all only closing in on a year's worth of data on this car. Lookit kiddies, let's take Hendrick. Jeff Gordon and Co. ain't gettin it done; Casey Mears and Co. ain't gettin it done. Both are winning teams and drivers. Tony Stewart ain't gettin it done, Denny Hamlin and his team for the most part ain't gettin it done. Neither are Jamie McMurray, Matt Kennseth to a degree - the degree he is used to; Harvick is improving weekly and Burton is right there but Burton and team would say they are off. Clint Bowyer won this year and he is falling behind. JP Montoya and team ain't gettin it done. Neither is Kurt Busch and neither is the Daytona 500 winner. GEM had a flash in the pan with Kahne for a few weeks now they are flat, and forget the other two teams. DEI, well only a few good runs with mark Martin and that's it.

Truth is boys there are only 4 teams out of 45 that are "gettin it done". And out of that Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have been the only two cars in the whole series who have run consitently good all year and won races. JJ has come on the last 6 weeks or so and Biffle has been there on the edge and now pushed it into the golden era.

So what's all this claptrap about Jr? In the history of the sport the whole thing has usually come down to 2-3 cars all year that get in done and that are in the hunt for a title. Jr. is 4-5th out of the entire top 10 cars on the circuit. That's better than the last 2 years at DEI. And that's with a whole brand new version of a race car. Jeff Burton went thru a similar MO a couple years back (ran good in first half and not good second half of a race). They didn't whine and give up--and they didn't listen to flacks like yall. And for the most part they have beaten that monster back.

You guys need to go take NASCAR 101--the REAL NASCAR, not the weekend warrior or blog version. You should try working on these things for a living. I did it briefly before I returned to college to get it out of my system. It wasn't easy then and it ain't easy now. They only thing that has changed is that there are now a zillion more armchair wrench jockeys like you doing the blah bla blah thing.

Grow up guys. This stuff is hard and even multiple winners go through dry spells and tough times.

September 25, 2008 at 5:37 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has to be the only professional sport I know of that lets the general public eve drop into what really is a private company conversation and the more that is made of this nonsense the more likely that access will stop. Would anyone want to have every conversation you had with coworkers or an employer listened to and dissected to death by the media for more than two weeks? The erratic behavior with this car and given the fact that almost everything learned from years of testing and research went out the door the minute it was tabbed as the replacement has led to additional frustration with all the teams not just the 88 team. It makes for good phony drama for all the writers and TV "experts" to titter about but when it's all said and done it means very little in the whole scheme of things. You have to ask yourself is has Junior done better in 2008 than in 2007, is Hendrick happy, are the vast majority of fans happy, the answers is obvious.

September 25, 2008 at 7:36 PM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

Hey Ed ...

Regarding your comment.

I never have claimed, nor will I ever claim, to be a master mechanic who knows how to make a car run good in NASCAR. I do my job, the mechanics do their job.

And I have plenty of respect for what they do, in part because I'm fully aware I could not do it myself

The fact remains, though, that when you're working for the No. 1 team in NASCAR and building cars / crew chiefing for the most popular drivers in the sport, you are expected to provide excellent finishes and compete for titles.

Call it unfair if you want ... but that's reality

September 25, 2008 at 11:50 PM 
Anonymous Ed said...

Matt, my point is that they ARE competing for wins and a title. No they don't look like at this point they will be the ultimate winner in the end, but I don't have a crystal ball. But what I don't get at all is your standpoint that the 88 crew has a "deep" problem. That's just nonsense. The 88 team in most indicies is right there with the 24 car, a friggin 4 time-nearly-six-time Cup champion with a gazzillion poles and 80 somein wins and all the money in the world, personally for Jeff Gordon and corporately with Hendrick. And right now they can't get out of their own way. Jockeys like you (maybe not you) are all spewing that he has lost it; can't drive; too pretty--whatever. They are the marque of the Hendrick organization. You think they have "deep" problems? You simply way too much...'they work for the numer 1 team all should be right'.

The same people are hard at work on the 24, the 88 the 5 and the 48. It's just the driver nuances that make the difference; what they can drive thru the corners. If you look at the 24/48 they were using a lot of the same setups on the old car and look what happened last year--neck and neck for the title and an unbelievable average finish down the stretch run. Look at it this year. Gordon--with all his talent--hasn't been able to adapt yet.

Lookit, how many times did they (media and yappers) count out Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott, Jeff Burton? Huh? At one time in their careers all the "conventional wisdomers" were whispering it was all over...Desk jockeys yappin all the way to the catering table. (I know that arena too).

Look this is your blog and we can disagree nicely but Matt you are all wet on this one. When I was in that macho world of a Cup team in the mid 1980s--it was harder then, no time off, less money and less modern traveling advantages--we used to laugh at the panziers in the news media who didn't have a clue what this business is about. I don't think you are a panzie man but you just don't get it.

I am a blue-collar-raised-Ivy League educated-top of the corporate ladder guy who has worked my ass off for 40 years to get what I have. And I never worked so hard in my life as in the Cup world off and on between 1974-1984. I worked for James Hylton, Race Hill Farm and DiGrad, for crew chiefs Hylton David Ift and Robert Yates and drivers Hylton Ron Bouchard and Ricky Rudd. This gives me some credibility not all but some.

And I gota tell ya this is the simple bottom line: the 88 car is good; these new cars are very finicky; they only have a year's data on this thing; and most of the garage is suffering through the same problems of performance. When all the other "deeper" theories arise, that's what they are--theories. The simple answer is the best answer here.

September 26, 2008 at 6:19 AM 

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