Is Jr. becoming the “fourth team” at Hendrick Motorsports?
I questioned whether the “fourth team” #5 was receiving the same consideration as Jeff Gordon’s #24, Jimmie Johnson’s #48 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #88.
I was wrong. Martin is no longer the fourth team -- the #88 car has now taken that honor.
Before Jr. Nation starts accusing me of bashing their driver, recognize that I’m not saying Jr. is a terrible driver. I’m also not saying he’s just getting by on his name, and I’m not saying that his crew chief is terrible.
What I am saying is that he’s not keeping up with his teammates, and not living up to what he should be doing in a car put together by an organization as top-notch as Hendrick. Whether it’s fair or not, you have to be judged in comparison to the best. Right now, the best includes all three of his teammates – who are all likely to be in the Chase competing for the title.
Even among Jr. Nation right now, I don’t think anyone is overly confident he will be there competing with them. Whether it’s pit road problems, hitting the wall or just ill-handling racecars in general, Jr. is not running a Chase-quality season right now.
In essence, he has become the “fourth team,” the one that doesn’t measure up to his teammates.
Talladega, a track where Jr. has 5 of his 18 career wins, would be a good place to turn his season around, because so far it hasn’t been pretty. He’s 19th in points and going in reverse.
For those who would say I’m being too harsh on Jr., I say look at the numbers and facts. Jr.’s teammates are all winning this year, and he isn’t. They’re getting solid finishes, and he isn’t most weeks. Two top-10 finishes in eight weeks aren’t the statistics you see from someone who will be competing for a title.
I have nothing against Jr., and think it would be great for the sport if he could become a Cup champion. But the way things are going, the chances of it happening this year are slim to none.