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DATE News (chronologically)
02/16/09
nassprint
Daytona proves Earnhardt Jr. a wanker
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR's most popular driver by far. In terms of performance on the track in recent years, and especially at this year's Daytona 500, he, clearly, is also the sport's most overrated driver [outside of IndyCar's Danica Patrick.]

The Earnhardt name is iconic in NASCAR circles. Face it, the late, great Dale Sr. is a god to auto racing fans. It is no wonder Junior is celebrity. But, how much of it is by name? Many of those cheering faces in the crowd might be making the mistake of believing the son is a chip off the old man's block.

Dale Junior has still yet to prove that he possess the Earnhardt racing gene. Amid high expectations, currently, he does not rank among Sprint Cup's best drivers.

So far, his best year was in 2004 where he won six races and finished fifth in the final point standings. Since then, NASCAR's most popular driver has won 3 times over a total of 145 races. This is his second year as a member of the best team in racing, Hendrick Motorsports, where three time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, four time champ Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin are his teammates. Junior certainly is not the best driver in the Hendrick stable. Would he rank four out four on his own team? More at Sporting News

For quite some time, he has had trouble running down Jimmie Johnson.  He has been behind the older Busch brother for a while, and now the younger one has passed him too. Even Greg Biffle has been the more accomplished driver in recent seasons.

So, yes, you could say Dale Earnhardt Jr. is struggling to keep pace. Which would be fine if it was just a driver here or a driver there who had gotten the better of Junior. Something like that could be explained. It could be justified.

No, what really hurts is Earnhardt's performance has fallen hopelessly behind his reputation.

The driver with the big salary, the magazine covers, the endorsements and the adulation of more fans than any NASCAR competitor in America the past half-dozen years is losing the race between substance and style.

Never has it seemed more noticeable than a gloomy Daytona 500 that was memorable for all the wrong reasons Sunday.

Handed one of the strongest cars on the track, Junior drove it straight to the back of the field with two pit road mistakes, then managed to skewer the race's outcome with a questionable move that triggered a nine-car accident.

"It's unfortunate that a guy who messed up his whole day on pit road and screwed up — that he had to make our day worse," said Kyle Busch, who led 88 laps before being caught up in the accident. "It wasn't our problem that he was a lap down and fighting with another lapped car."

Okay, so mistakes happen. And this one could just as easily have been the fault of Brian Vickers, who appeared a mite aggressive in trying to block Earnhardt low.

But here's the thing:

The world always seems eager to provide excuses for Earnhardt's shortcomings. It is the fault of the engine builder. It is the fault of his previous owner. It is the fault of fate and circumstances. More at St. Petersburg Times

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