4 Corners: Is this year Dale Jr. gets back in groove?

February 15, 2011

Pole doesn't equal win

Keith Groller

The Morning Call

The conspiracy theorists already are stirring. The same cynics who believe that every NBA playoff series that goes seven games is fixed are ready to pounce should Dale Jr. win the Daytona 500 on the 10th anniversary of his father's death at NASCAR's most famous track. Really, what could help the sport and its sagging TV ratings more than having its most recognizable driver come out of his doldrums and win NASCAR's Super Bowl, especially when in this case an entire season follows the Super Bowl?

But winning poles is not the same as winning races, and while Junior's pole-taking performance may have given Sunday's race an extra PR boost, it does not necessarily foreshadow what would be a storybook win or a competitive season. Hendrick Motorsports is trying its best to revive Junior's career, but it's still up to him to avoid the mistakes that have kept him out of Victory Lane.

kgroller@tribune.com

Needs an early victory

Jim Peltz

Los Angeles Times

Yes — if Earnhardt wins, or comes very close, early in the season. Either would go far in lifting the psychological burden and lack of confidence that's increasingly weighed on Earnhardt as his winless streak has dragged on to 93 (and he's found Victory Lane one only once in four years).

Early success – especially a storybook win at the Daytona 500 this weekend on the 10th anniversary of his father's death – also would give Earnhardt the momentum that's key in any sport. Will his pairing with new crew chief Steve Letarte help the cause?

Winning the Daytona 500 pole was a nice start, but remember: Letarte had been crew chief for four-time champion Jeff Gordon, and Gordon has now gone 65 races without a win himself.

jpeltz@tribune.com

Far from a sure thing

George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the clock.

He knows it too.

"I don't think I should win any sympathy votes or anything," he said during the NASCAR awards weekend in Las Vegas recently. "We need to perform."

Winning the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500 is a good start, but by no means is Junior a sure thing for consistent success this season. He's been mediocre at best driving for the best team in the business.

Maybe a new voice in his ear will help. He certainly seems more engaged with Steve Letarte as crew chief. After Junior got whacked by Carl Edwards during the Bud Shootout and taken out of the race, reporters looked at Earnhardt in the garage and joked that he was in the middle of the longest debriefing of his career.

Still, I don't know if Junior is up for the challenge. The answers aren't so much in lap times. They are in his head. Junior needs to ask himself if this is really what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

gdiaz2@tribune.com

Numbers say no way

Shawn Courchesne

Hartford Courant

It is the fashionable story around NASCAR to predict big things for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season, but there is no evidence to back it up.

It's the 10-year anniversary of his legendary father's death in the 2001 Daytona 500. That will surely have some forecasting a Hollywood ending, with a beaming, beer-soaked Earnhardt standing in victory lane, the triumphant hero a decade after family tragedy.

In three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports — arguably the best team in NASCAR — Earnhardt has been unspectacular as the anchor of the organization's four Sprint Cup Series competitors. In 108 points events for Hendrick, Earnhardt has one victory.

The numbers tell a story, one that likely won't have a fairy tale ending.

scourchesne@tribune.com

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