Independence day (cont.)
Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 3:35PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 4:49PM
What is Dale Jr. looking for in a new team?
First and foremost, he's looking for the ability to win a championship. He's 32, he's entering the prime of his career. He knows that the window for him to win a championship, realistically, is about 8-10 more years. He wants to win multiple championships, so he wants to go to a team that can provide him really fast racecars.
He also wants to go to a team where he feels appreciated. He simply did not feel appreciated by Teresa. It doesn't matter if he is the most popular guy in NASCAR; he still wants to be appreciated by his boss. He wants an owner who is going to be there at the track each weekend, which Teresa hasn't been. He wants an owner to give him a big bear hug in Victory Lane like Rick Hendrick does to his drivers. He wants to really feel a part of the whole racing experience, and that includes feedback and participation with an owner, and that's something he didn't have with Teresa.
Who might be joining Dale Jr. from DEI in his move?
There isn't a package deal, but I think there is a high likelihood that Tony Eury Jr., his crew chief, will move with him. The two have been together since 1998, they've won two Busch series championships together, they've won 17 Cup races together and they nearly won a championship in 2004. Junior has a very unique way of communicating with his crew chief, and Tony Eury Jr. is very adept at decoding what Junior is saying over the radio and then applying that to making changes in the set-up of the racecar. They almost have a personal language that only they can speak. It would certainly be in Junior's best interest to have Eury Jr., who is known throughout the garage as one of the top five crew chiefs.
What team is the frontrunner for Dale Jr.'s services?
There are three teams that everyone is mentioning. One is Hendrick Motorsports, but Hendrick has commitments to four drivers for next year, and that's the limit NASCAR imposes on a team in terms of how many drivers you can have; you can only have four per team. So Hendrick is out of the equation.
The two credible contenders for Dale Jr's services are going to be Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. I think the best fit for him is probably going to be Gibbs. Dale Jr.'s best friend in racing is probably Tony Stewart, and they would make a great 1-2 punch at Gibbs. The two of them could go head-to-head with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson over at Hendrick; that would make for a great rivalry. Plus, you have Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing, and he would make a perfect No. 3 driver to go head-to-head with Kyle Busch over at Hendrick.
The other place he could go would be Richard Childress, where his dad won seven championships, and there's always the allure of the No. 3 car sitting over there, which Childress still owns the rights to.
Could Dale Jr.'s move be an opportunity for him to drive his dad's No. 3 car?
It could be, but I don't think it will. He said Thursday that his dad was the one who made that car famous, his dad was the one who captivated every race car fan in the country with his performance in that No. 3 car, and he said that it just doesn't feel quite right for him to get in there at this point in his career. But he also said he would listen to Richard Childress, and if Richard Childress has strong feelings on this, he'll sit down at the table and hear him out. But I have a hard time seeing Junior in the No. 3 car next year. Junior has said that perhaps he would like to finish his career in the No. 3 car, but that is probably a good 10 or 15 years down the road.
What might his father have thought about this move?
If his father had been around this move wouldn't have been necessary. His dad would have been running the show, and I would guess that Junior would have multiple championships by now because his dad would have made sure that Junior had as good equipment as anyone else in Nextel Cup racing. He certainly hasn't had that since he's been at DEI.
If his dad was looking down from heaven, I think he would have been proud of Junior for following his instincts and following what he thinks is right.
Any drawback to this move for Junior?
Performance-wise? No. The only negatives that could come out of this are two things, and Junior fully recognizes them. One, there are a lot of wounded people at DEI right now who are facing uncertain futures all of a sudden. Junior has a lot of long-term relationships with people there, and that is weighing very heavily on Junior. The second thing: there could be a bit of a backlash from his fans, who may not appreciate the move.