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.
Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond