After Monday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, it became evident to me that Dale Earnhardt Jr is not going to win the Sprint Cup Championship any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that he has the driving talent to win the Cup, but right now, he doesn’t have the maturity or temperament that it takes to win one.
Dale Jr’s struggles this season have been attributed to his rocky relationship with his cousin and former crew chief Tony Eury Jr. The two could not communicate well enough to improve the car on pit stops, and the team would often make adjustments that would make the car worse.
Rick Hendrick realized that this was a situation that was never going to improve, so he split the two up. He hoped that bringing in a new crew chief, someone without a history of working with Dale Jr, would help the driver and crew chief communicate better.
But, I’m not optimistic that communication between driver and crew chief will improve unless Dale Jr changes his attitude and matures.
During the race, Dale Jr came over the radio to complain about everything from the COT’s lack of down force to how much he hates racing at Pocono. He would also frequently complain about the car when Lance McGrew made a change that he didn’t want – at one point he snapped at his spotter, TJ Majors, because he wasn’t happy that McGrew made the change.
This is not the behavior of a championship driver, nor is it the way a championship team conducts itself.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus do not interact this way. Granted, they have a much longer history together. But, there comes a point when a driver needs to trust his crew chief enough to let him make adjustments whether or not he agrees with them, and then move on if they don’t work.
Johnson has questioned Knaus on several occasions about an adjustment. Knaus usually tells him they’re trying to keep up with the race track, and Johnson understands and they make the change. If that call backfires, Johnson tells Knaus what the car is doing, and together they work on solutions for the next stop.
Dale Jr did not do this on Monday. Instead, he complained that McGrew made the car worse. He did not offer any suggestions to make the car better at that time. Two stops later, he was still complaining about that call (which I believe was a quarter-round of wedge) instead of telling McGrew what the car was doing.
This is counter-productive. It doesn’t build better communication, it stifles it. Dale Jr needs to learn this, and he needs to learn it soon.
We all know Dale Jr hates racing at Pocono. We also know his thoughts on the COT. But, at some point, you have to realize that these things are not going to change, and that everyone is dealing with the same issues. So what do you do? Deal with it and move on.
I know Dale Jr has to vent his frustration. I get that. I understand. But piling it on becomes too much for anyone to take. I think that’s part of the reason Dale Jr and Tony Jr had problems. Dale Jr would complain and complain, and Tony Jr would tell him to shut up and deal with it. McGrew probably won’t do that, but in some ways, he needs to. Or better yet, Rick Hendrick needs to. Maybe having it come from an authority figure he respects will make him heed the advice.
I think Dale Jr should listen to the communication between Johnson and Knaus or Mark Martin and Alan Gustafson. He should focus more on how Martin and Johnson handle disagreements with their crew chiefs, and how they respond to an ill-handling car.
If Monday is any indication, it’s obvious that hasn’t happened or isn’t happening. At some points in the race, he behaved like an upset little kid, instead of a Sprint Cup driver. But, Sprint Cup drivers are the ones who win championships, not little kids.
Until Dale Jr realizes this, he’ll never win a championship.