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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. expose the problem with the “one team” concept

Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets team owner Leonard Wood – who is celebrating his 60th season in NASCAR – on the grid before the start of Saturday’s race.

It was a big point made by Hendrick Motorsports early in 2010: The #5 and #88 would be working together more than ever in 2010.
They would share information in an effort to make both teams better.

Seeing how it’s all played out, it’s clear that’s not quite working out. After Chicagoland, both drivers are outside the Chase … just barely … and aren’t running consistently good each week.

Let’s look back at how this all played out.
The season started out decent for Martin, but not spectacular, after an awesome 2009 where he won a bunch of races.
Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled mightily to start the year.

So what happens? Personnel was shuffled … that translates to key people being taken off Martin’s #5 team and move to Jr.’s #88 team. Since then, Jr. has been improving (though Chicago was terrible for him), and Martin has been going backward in the standings. Martin even alluded this week to this shift in personnel possibly hurting his team’s performance.

It appears there is an “I” in team … and that “I” is Mr. Hendrick really wanting his cash cow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to finally do well in his cars so everyone stops asking him what’s wrong with the #88 team.

Of course, this has to come at the expense of Martin, kind of blowing out of the water this concept that the two teams could really act as one. In the end, they will fight for resources, and the #88 team will win because of its higher-profile driver.

This, of course, will never be admitted to by the organization, which must stick by its preseason claims of “one team”. But deep down, they have to know it’s not possible. And if they continue to make Martin feel not wanted, he might just let them give Kasey Kahne the #5 car next season and go somewhere else where he feels appreciated.

What’s next for Sadler?
Anyone who has followed NASCAR over the past few years knows that Elliott Sadler’s results leave a lot to be desired. He rarely runs up front, outside of restrictor plate tracks, and is long past the days when he was winning races. Last year, the Gillett team, now known as Richard Petty Motorsports, attempted to get rid of him, but he was under contract so they had to take him back.

Now, he has said that he won’t return to the team … as if that wasn’t obvious already.
So what’s next? I’m afraid I can’t be too positive about his future. In the past 6 seasons, he has 5 top-5 finishes. With numbers like that, no big-name team will be begging you for your service. There are other smaller teams that want Sadler, but it won’t be anyone who competes for wins on a regular basis, so he’ll be in the same boat he is now.

If he really wants to race competitively, he could go the route of other veterans and move back to the Nationwide or Truck series. But I don’t think that’s going to be something he will want to do. These guys get used to being around Cup, even if the results stop showing up, and will stick around in any ride they can find.

My prediction: A backmarker team will pick up Sadler, announce it’s their gateway to growing into a better team, but he’ll still run between 20th and 30th every week, at best.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan has said several times that the change from the wing to the spoiler has caused the poor performance of the #5. And there was only one person who left the #5 for the #88. Perhaps Martin is having a sophomore year like drivers have. Although I read Martin was troubled by information given the #88 by the #5. WHAT? I thought at HMS all information was shared. Could it be that info is NOT shared?

July 13, 2010 at 10:41 AM 
Anonymous JJ said...

I've maintained all along that in a 4-car team, that fourth car always struggles. You've seen it the past with RCR, and now with Roush, and, of course with Hendrick. And now with the "no-testing" (which is a joke, of course, but it doesn't help) rule, somebody on that team has to be the experimental car and it's not going to be the number 1 or number 2 car.

If I were an owner, I'd model myself after SHR or now the re-vamped Earnhart-Ganassi and Gibbs. Staying within yourself gives you more control of your operation and provides positive results. EGR, Gibbs, and the success of MWR shows that keeping it small limits the egos you have to soothe, etc.

July 13, 2010 at 12:09 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no way that anyone that has followed NASCAR for the last ten years should buy the idea that all the Hendrick teams have the same level of information and technical expertise. If it were so, all the teams should start the race with basically the same quality of car. The skill of the driver and crew would separate the teams during the race. It is often that the 24/48 unload far superior cars. There are 4 distinct teams at HMS and no one should expect them to perform the same. The 5's fall from grace is somewhat puzzling, considering how strong it was last year. The idea that swapping team members between the 5 and the 88 would make the 5 a much worse team only lends credence to my theory.

July 13, 2010 at 12:32 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so lets look at chicago land the #88 unloaded and practiced all day in the 20's, then qualified in the 20's. finished the race in the 20's. couldnt fix the car at all in the race. driver or crew chief? this has happened numerous times this season.

July 13, 2010 at 2:11 PM 
Anonymous Richard in N.C. said...

I believe the 1 team concept has worked for the 24 and 48 cars.

Maybe the switch of personnel has hurt the 5, but could it just be possible that age is starting to catch up just a little with Mark at age 50? Mark is still 14th in points. The F1 press keeps writing that Schumacher is washed up at the advanced age of 41. Could it be that it is easier to get readers by blaming Dale, Jr. and Rick H. than by really looking at the whole picture?

July 13, 2010 at 3:56 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt, I will just post here a comment I posted earlier elsewhere.
Last year, since Tony Jr. made Jr.'s cars with 2007 DEI specs, Mark's cars were made with the 24 & 48 cars. This year the 5 & 88 are made in the same garage out back. I am enclosing a a comment I just sent to Doug Demmons of
"Doug, Since your site won't let me post a comment, I am sending it to you.
You must not have seen the practice where the Speed/Fox announcers said that JJ & JG had the 2 new generation car. Jr. did not get one. I felt badly for Jr. when the Speed Report showed his post-race interview he said that he was just "confused". I'll bet he is! He is the one bringing in the greatest amount of money and all he runs are the r&d cars for the 24 & 48 with a cc whose job was washing the haulers during the week before he was made Jr.'s cc. I am confused too.
I have finally come to believe that Rick does not want Jr. in the top 12. I think he was bitterly disappointed at Daytona when Jr. won with and RCR car Friday night and then Sat. night, even with the piece of junk he had to drive, he managed to finish 4th and get in the top 12. :) He was going to make sure that that did not happen 2 weeks in a row.
I was reading in the comments section of some blog a few weeks back that there is a story here, but the regular Nascar journalists/writers don't dare touch it. Maybe we could get the National Enquirer to do another story on Jr., a good one, by looking into just what is going on here. Something is rotten. Maybe that guy who uncovered the John Edwards mess.
I can only hope & pray that Rick lets Jr. go and puts Kasey in the 88 car. The sooner the better.

July 13, 2010 at 4:27 PM 
Anonymous yankeegranny said...

The 5 and the 88 had cars that had previously raced this year and were not competitive in previous races. The 24 and 48 had "brand new cars that are second generation" compared to the junk that the 5 and 88 were driving. The results speak for themselves.
In the case of the 88, every time the car came into the pits, it had a right rear tire worn down to the cords. It didn't matter how many laps were on the tires, the cords were showing to some extent. Jr was told to take it easy on the tires. You don't run up front by taking it easy. Sprint cup racing is not a Sunday drive. Whose fault was it? Have to put that on the back of whoever set the car up and that is not the driver.

July 13, 2010 at 4:57 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick wants Kasey Kahne in the 5 car next year, not Mark. Rick is making sure that Mark will having nothing like he had last year in the way of fast cars with the hope that he will say screw it, I'm outta here, Kasey can drive this POS.

Mark is physically fit. He can still drive a race car. He didn't loose it in a few months. Last year Mark's cars were usually one of the fastest on the track when they unloaded, week in and week out. This year they unload junk every week.

This sounds ridiculous to a point but the huge drop in performance doesn't add up to tires or a spoiler change. It didn't affect the 24/48 too much did it? Not to mention that the performance was off before the spoiler change. And when you factor in the Kasey Kahne circus, you can't rule out anything. Heck, because it's NASCAR - you can't rule out anything.

July 13, 2010 at 8:50 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I am looking for the book Jr. will be bringing out the day after he finally walks out of HMS, telling us all about the 5 years he spent there. :)

July 14, 2010 at 3:39 PM 
Anonymous Clay said...

"Richardin NC" You just can't let go of the age issue with Mark. I think (and forgive me if I'm wrong) we had this discussion last month in response to Richard Allen's article "Not looking like such a pleasure for Mark Martin these days" So not to beat a dead horse I'll just copy paste.

Obviously age will eventually matter, even in Mark’s case but age in it’s natural stage does not fall off that quickly without some mitigating factor ie serious injury, or health issue. Now I’m not one of those conspiracy people like 911 was an inside job but it does make you wonder. Mark came right in and started winning races, as previously noted that put a negative perspective on Dale Jr’s. ability and also Jeff Gordon (not that I’m questioning Jeff’s ability, you don’t win four champions by luck) as I recall he only won one race last year. Wow put that in perspective and that puts a monkey wrench in everything. You simply can’t have the old man come in and make the four time champion and NASCAR’s most popular driver look bad.

July 15, 2010 at 12:51 PM 

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