Will Hendrick sack backmarker Earnhardt? You would think with Jimmie Johnson well on his way to a fourth straight Sprint Cup title all would be well in the Hendrick Motorsports world.
Well that's not the case.
While Johnson rolls along on another patented Chase performance with Hendrick and teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon riding along in the top five of the standings, much of the team's success is being overshadowed by the continued disappointment of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The second year of Earnhardt's tenure at Hendrick has been nothing short of a disaster. Rather than building on the solid start Earnhardt had in the first half of last season, the 88 squad has unraveled into a sticky mess.
Things looked to be on track only a few weeks ago when Earnhardt notched a pair of top-10 finishes and had several stints when he ran at the front of the pack. New crew chief Lance McGrew finally seemed to be making inroads on turning the team's fortunes around after taking over for the beleaguered Tony Eury Jr. in May.
But since finishing ninth at Bristol at the end of August, Earnhardt's best performance has been 17th at Atlanta. Runs of 35th, 36th and 38th have been more the norm for Earnhardt, and last week in Charlotte he reached a boiling point. zzzz
"I'm about at the end of my rope," Earnhardt said. "I feel like I don't have any control, you know? Rick Hendrick put me in a great position but I haven't made the most of it. For whatever reason we're just not getting it done."
Earnhardt, airing his frustration, began speculation about what Hendrick would do this time to right the 88 ship. That includes whether McGrew is the right fit to call the shots on top of the pit box, or if things would be better served with yet another crew chief in 2010.
"My philosophy has always been if you can fix something rather than start all over, then I'd rather fix it," Hendrick said. "When I see the car as the best car out there in my group in two or three races and have crappy luck, it's almost like, 'Hey, let's focus on the little things that can make us better.'"
If Earnhardt can't make it with the powerhouse that is Hendrick Motorsports, where can he flourish?
Some believe he will eventually turn his JR Motorsports Nationwide Series operation into a full-fledged Cup team and end his career there as an owner-driver. He will certainly have the ability to call his own shots in that situation and perhaps that's how Junior is most comfortable.
It's evident he's anything but comfortable right now. The question is can Rick Hendrick do anything to change that before it's too late? CBS Sports
[Editor's Note: Everyone in the paddock now realizes Jr. has been riding on his "daddy's" coattails for years and it is now clear that the reason the Hendrick car is a slug is the driver behind the wheel. Some in the paddock are speculating that Hendrick might decide to fire Earnhardt before he embarrasses the team any further.]