Does Dale Earnhardt Jr. Want To Win?

In some respects, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked all the part of a driver who hasn’t won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in his last 99 starts. In others, he did not.

Earnhardt was primed for his first big league NASCAR win in almost three years on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. He held the lead late in the going before relinquishing it to eventual winner Kevin Harvick with 5 laps to go.

A few short laps after knocking Kyle Busch out of the top spot, Earnhardt, Sunday’s runner-up, gave up the inside line to Harvick in turn 1, opening the door for Harvick to take the lead.

Earnhardt appeared ready to attempt a crossover move heading into turn 3. He had a fender on Harvick heading into the turn, but backed off before the two cars got to the corner, enabling Harvick to slide down in front of him.

He never challenged again.

In one respect, Earnhardt looked like a driver who hasn’t won in nearly 100 starts. His late-race, rookie-like mistake to let Harvick by showed that perhaps he’s forgotten what it’s like to run up front and contend for wins. After all, his last victory not determined by pit strategy came nearly 5 years ago.

On the other hand, Earnhardt’s lack of desire to go back after the win in the closing laps made him look nothing like a driver who hasn’t won in 99 starts. He didn’t look like a driver hungry to end a drought.

Earnhardt blamed his decision not to attempt to re-take the lead from Harvick on “not wanting to be the bad guy”, but I have my own theory:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t really want to win.

Any driver worth his salt, who has any determination to win whatsoever, would give their left leg to be in the position Earnhardt was in on Sunday. And here’s why: as a driver, it doesn’t get any easier than the position Earnhardt was in. He had the fender on Harvick. All he had to do was hold his position. If he wanted to be sure he could get by Harvick, he could have hit him too.

In this new era of “Have at it boys”, and the fact that they were racing on a short track, the latter would not have been remotely unacceptable.

With a move like that, Earnhardt could have driven off and left Harvick, and pulled into Victory Lane right then and there on Sunday. It certainly would have been a pleasant surprise for his restless nation of fans.

Instead, he left his plums at Whiskey River. And as a race fan, I feel it’s a darn shame.

I hate to draw the comparisons to his daddy, but Dale Earnhardt would never have given up a race, particularly at a short track, because he “didn’t want to be the bad guy”. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about Dale; we’re talking about Dale Jr.

In all honesty, I feel worse for his fans than anybody. Junior Nation has had to put up with a lot of crap and disappointment over the last few years. And while they may be an obnoxious bunch, they do stay loyal. And they deserved better than they got on Sunday.

I’m probably going to take a lot of flak for saying all this. But it’s ok, it needs to be said. And unlike Dale Earnhardt Jr., I don’t mind being the bad guy.

If Sunday was any indication, Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t really want to win.

Tags: Dale Earnhardt Jr Kevin Harvick Kyle Busch Martinsville

  • Jamerson

    Really? Dale Jr. doesn’t want to win? If Dale Jr. didn’t want to win, why would he have made the bump on Kyle Busch to take the lead? Why wouldn’t he have just settled for a top-5 and gone home. Dale Jr. wanted to win. And I don’t know what race you were watching Ben, but your perspective on events is way skewed.

    After Dale Jr. pulled the crossover and got back underneath Harvick, Harvick immediately began crowding Dale Jr. down towards the curb that runs alongside the inside of the corners. At this point, Junior would have one of two options. If he goes left to try and make more room between he and Harvick, his car his the curbing, potentially damaging it to the point that he may slide out of the top-5 in the closing laps. If he slides up into Harvick, he’d have to turn slap right to do it, basically knocking the hell out of Harvick, running him up the hill and into the wall. That would take Harvick out of contention for the win, but pulling off such a move would slow Junior’s car so much that Kyle Busch would have been to his bumper in no time, and probably would’ve taken the win. Beyond that, Junior respects and is friends with Kevin Harvick… he’s not going to run him that rough. Junior is not the driver his father was. In fact, he’s one of the LEAST aggressive drivers on the Cup circuit. If anything, Junior is more akin to a Mark Martin than a Dale Earnhardt.

    Also, you talk about Junior never getting back to Harvick’s rear bumper to make another challenge for the lead. There’s a very simple reason for that: HARVICK WAS FASTER. Honestly, Junior’s car wasn’t that good. It was a top-10 car, but not a top-5 car and certaintly not a race winning car. Junior was not fast enough to catch back up to Harvick, and would have lost 2nd to Kyle Busch if they had run one more lap.

    Honestly, I don’t know how you can draw some of the conclusions that you have drawn. I’m honestly left to wonder how much you actually even understand about stock car racing. It seems like you may just be another “arm chair crew chief” who can say this or that that Junior could have done differently to win the race.

    Junior will get his wins. I have no question of that. But he will get him in HIS WAY. And wrecking another driver is not Junior’s way. Never has been. Never will be.

    • Terri-Lynn

      Very nicely said….not at all like the drivel you were commenting on!!

  • Jamerson

    Ben, I’m going to go ahead and apologize for the “arm chair crew chief” bit. That was out of line. I’ve read enough of your articles to know that you are knowledgeable about stock car racing. I just spoke out of anger. Excuse me for that entire next-to-last paragraph.

    Everything else holds, though. Those are my opinions and I stand behind them 100%.

    • Ben Montedonico

      No worries, Jamerson. It’s cool. I appreciate your comments and your honesty. And nothing is out of line on here except swearing; you’re entitled to your opinions. Thanks for reading!

  • Denny

    Being a Dale Junior fan for many years I hate to agree but I must. It sure looked like a weak effort to hold on to victory. If being a nice guy is his goal get used to finishing in the back of the leaders.

    • Jamerson

      Are you really a Dale Jr. fan, Denny? Because if you were, I don’t think you’d question his desire to win that easily. If anything, I wonder if you’re a Dale Earnhardt fan who transferred to Junior when Dale Sr. passed away, and wants Junior to be his father. If that is the case, then you would probably be better served to be a fan of Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch.

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  • Jessica

    When you have a sports writer that doesn’t like Dale JR for whatever reason you typiclly get two kinds of articles: When JR wins there is usually some kind of conspiracy involved. NASCAR wants JR to win so the race was fixed article. When JR doesn’t win it’s because he doesn’t want to win or have ‘the fire’ to win. The JR didn’t wreck people to win article.

    Jamerson you said it right…don’t apologize. I guess Jimmie Johnson didn’t ‘want to win’ at California or he would’ve wrecked Kevin Harvick on the last lap.

    JR didn’t want to dump Harvick for the win because Kyle Busch did that to JR at Richmond in 2008…that’s what he meant by the “bad guy” comment. Dale JR actually said “I didn’t want to be the bad guy today but we’ll win our share of races…” which means – I don’t have to wreck somebody to win a race. I don’t see how anyone could argue that point with the way the 88 team is running this year.

    FTR I think the crossover move on Harvick would’ve worked but the left rear of Harvick’s car had enough damage that it was able to slide over the nose of Earnhardt’s car. I’m really surprised that hasn’t been mentioned or noticed. Watch the end of the race again and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

  • Terri-Lynn

    Please don’t feel bad for Jr’s fans. We love him no matter what the journalists say!!

  • Jessica

    You said it right Jamerson…don’t apologize. I guess 5-time champ Jimmie Johnson didn’t ‘want to win’ at California or he would’ve wrecked Kevin Harvick on the last lap.

  • Austin

    To be honest Ben, I liked the way the article was written, BUT, I disagree with what is stated. If Dale had moved Harvick with still that many laps to go, Kevin would have pulled back in and roughed Dale up. There was enough space when Dale had the opportunity to make that move that Kevin would have been in front of Kyle or a caution would have been out. I don’t doubt for a second that if there was that same situation with Dale and Kevin and it was white flag, there would have been no “nice guy” from Dale.