Thursday, October 22, 2009

Junior's Struggles at Hendrick are Statistically Sound

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is NASCAR's most popular driver, there is no doubt about that. When he came to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he chose Hendrick because it is the best team in NASCAR. Junior wants to win a championship, and if he doesn't succeed, at Hendrick Motorsports he wanted to have no one to blame but himself.

For most of the 2008 season, Earnhardt was second in points, but plummeted mightily when the Chase began, finishing in the last-seed 12th position.

In 2009, Junior has continued his struggles, and sits in 22nd position on points with just five top-10s and nine finishes of 30th or worse, even after being parted from his cousin and long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. earlier this season in favor of Lance McGrew.

Junior may have joined Hendrick Motorsports so he had no one to blame but himself, but I don't think he alone is to blame for his struggles this season.

You see, since Hendrick Motorsports expanded to four cars in 2002, at least one of those cars has struggled every season.

I've assembled the position of the HMS cars in owner points since 2002 (if you want to see the list, see the Google Doc: Here's the rankings of the four cars:

  • 2002: 4th, 5th, 25th, 34th
  • 2003: 2nd, 4th, 10th, 26th
  • 2004: 2nd, 3rd, 26th, 27th
  • 2005: 5th, 11th, 17th, 20th
  • 2006: 1st, 6th, 10th, 15th
  • 2007: 1st, 2nd, 5th, 15th
  • 2008: 1st, 7th, 12th, 21st
  • 2009 (after 31 races): 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 22nd

I don't purport to know the answers - Rick Hendrick has won 8 championships as an owner and I have less than that. He has made millions of dollars in a business that typically sucks money, and I have made $15 in Google Ads. I can make a few guesses though:

My first guess is that resources are simply stretched too thin. While it may be difficult to image resources actually being thin at Hendrick Motorsports, just consider the amount that goes on in the shop every day. Is it really possible that every car built at the HMS shop - cars for the four HMS teams and the two Stewart-Haas teams - is better than everyone else's cars? I highly doubt this.

Someone has to get stuck with the bottom of the barrel. Yes, Rick Hendrick is committed to turning around the no. 88 team... but Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon are in the thick of a championship battle - do you think Hendrick is going to assign a car identified as bad to one of them?

In addition, HMS has more than 400 employees. The same principle with the cars holds true for the employees - are all 400 employees better than all of Roush-Fenway's employees? Than Joe Gibbs' employees? Then Richard Childress' employees? Someone at HMS will have more of the weaker crew members than the other teams, and I'm willing to bet it's not one of the teams in the title hunt.

Then you have the psychological aspect of not running well, which tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle. This is something that affects both driver and team, and both need a lot of support to break it.

I'm not trying to spread a conspiracy here, it's just business - would Rick Hendrick really sacrifice the performance of Jimmie Johnson to try to increase the performance of a car mired back in 22nd place?

Statistically speaking, at least one of the Hendrick cars has always struggled since the team expanded to four cars. This year, this car happens to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.


  1. Last week at Lowe's, Jr. was given the car he finished 27th with in Pocono in June. That means it was still one of the Tuny Jr. chassis based on DEI specs from 2007. Jr. goy 2 new chassis for 1 1/2 mile tracks in July and Aug. Why weren't one of them used...? Did Brad run one of them...?

    The 25/88 car is the R&D car for HMS and always finishes the year somewhere int he 20's. RH has Jr. tied in with a 5 year contract and then buying control of half of JR Motorsports. I hope that by 2010 Jr. can be far way from RH & HMS.


  2. Junior just needs to start running more Nationwide races, with his cousin as the crew chief, build his confidence back to where it needs to be, maybe even run for a championship, tho I feel that would take to much focus away from the goal and that should be rebuilding his confidence and having fun, I don't believe in conspiracies or that any one driver at any given team is the one that gets the bad car, Everyone of those people at that level wants to win, I don't care what your job is or who you are, try telling any of those folks that they don't have a chance, because the stuff they are getting is second rate. I feel that what is happening with the 88 team is people trying so or even to hard and having such bad luck that they are all doubting each other, the confidence is shot, go back to the basics have fun and run more Nationwide races, drive out from under all the B.S.

  3. Dale Junior should have never signed with Hendrick. What made him think he would be getting cars as good as JJ and Gordon. I think now is the time he goes to Childress. He can take over for Harvick. I think RC can get the #8 from Theresa and think Budweiser would prefer Jr over KK. RC and JR both have nowhere to go but up.