Dale Earnhardt Jr. is finally starting to deliver for Rick Hendrick the way they envisioned when he first left DEI to drive for Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2008 racing season.
Dale Jr. won at Pocono on Sunday to give him his third Sprint Cup victory of the season and the sweep at Pocono. Junior has won three races placed in the top 10 15 times this season to put him second in points. That is much different from the previous six seasons, where he only won two Sprint Cup races.
Early in his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports, not only was Little E failing to capture the checkered flag, he was having trouble cracking the top 10. He finished 25th in 2009 and 21st in 2010, and he says he would have fired himself had he been the team owner.
“When me and Rick got together we had this idea that this was going to go really good. … It just didn’t work,” Earnhardt Jr. said of his early time with Hendrick Motorsports during ESPN’s Sunday Conversation with Marty Smith. “I wasn’t as good as I could have been. I wasn’t the driver that I am today. I didn’t put in the effort that I put in today.”
Not only does Earnhardt Jr. admit he’s working harder now, he says he would have fired himself as a driver had he been Hendrick.
“I was an owner in a Nationwide car and I had been through that with certain drivers where you gotta go, ‘Hey man, this isn’t working. This is just not going to work. I’m going in a different direction and you’re going in a different direction, and it’s up to you what that direction is, but we’re not going on it together.’ I’ve been through that, and so I’m thinking if I’m Rick, I don’t know that I would have stayed through and seen this through like he did. If I was Rick, I would have made the change, I would have said, ‘Didn’t work out, you’ll be fine, you’re Dale Earnhardt Jr., I’m Rick Hendrick, we’re both going to be OK, but we gotta do something different.
“I would have probably done it that way. But I’m glad he didn’t.”
Sticking with Earnhardt Jr. has paid off. Junior won more races (6) in 2004 alone than he has in his entire career with Hendrick, but he’s picked things up this season and coming through the way they always hoped he would.