By Joe Dunn
On Sunday, a dejected Dale Earnhardt Jr displayed a side of himself that NASCAR fans are not used to. After his front running car was destroyed in a late race crash involving David Reutimann Junior lashed out at David, using the term “out of talent” to describe the driver of the 00 Toyota.
I have been around this sport for a long time and I’m accustomed to drivers shooting off after a wreck, but Junior is a lot like Mark Martin, you rarely ever hear him bad mouthing someone. Even in the lead up to his departure from DEI, junior left the bad mouthing to others. Junior Nation, his fans were loud and clear with their displeasure with Teresa Earnhardt and DEI, but Junior was always the Class Act, choosing not to make it personal.
Since Tony Eury Sr stepped down as his crew chief, Junior’s performance on the track has been inconsistent. He struggled through a handful of crew chiefs before settling in with Tony Jr, but that spot light to the championship continued to flicker. As his on track problems continued, he remained the ‘cool cat’, always showing respect and composure. With his move to HMS, hopes were high for that big change, but it did not come. When his fans began blaming Tony Jr. Dale stood up and defended his cousin/crew chief. It was finally Rick Hendrick’s decision to split them up. Still Dale kept his composure. He has spent the last few months learning to work with Lance McGrew, and it is paying off. Sunday was an example of that improvement.
So what happened Sunday? There are a lot of opinions out there about who was at fault and to what extent. Reutimann took the blame for the wreck, but was it as blatant as Junior called it? Trying to watch the replays, from nearly every angle, this wreck was just outside the frame. The only camera shot that really tells the story was from the 88 in car camera. You could see the 00 car along side the 88 all the way down the straightaway, heading for the turn Reutimann actually nosed ahead of Earnhardt. But as they started the approach to the turn, both cars moved down the track. You could see the smoke coming from the 11 car, and then Reutimann moved down just a bit and then moved up hitting the 88. It was not a hit in the rear as some people called it, it was a hit near the front, but because David was on the brakes, Dale moved past him and he started sliding up the track. This was unfortunately a racing incident.
Junior’s comments that “ the 00 can’t hold his line … went down in the bottom of the corner an lost it, hit me in the side and spun me out…David just run out of talent.” was a bit of an exaggeration at best. The 00 never went to the bottom, the replays show that Montoya was down there. As I said earlier, this was simply a racing incident. I feel bad for Junior, this looked like a real strong turning point for the 88 team, and to end the day like that is disheartening. These are two very talented drivers that are also very genuine Gentlemen.
This is not a slam at Junior for his reaction, simply my observation that the stress that is on him at this point in his career is so much, that he reacted in a manner that is so contrary to his character. I am sure that these two will talk this over, and not make it something that it is not. I wish junior all the luck and success that he and the team can muster for these last 9 races. This season cannot end soon enough for him, and I hope that the off season allows him to ‘chill out’ and get back to being the Junior the fans all know and love. With a fresh start in 2010, I anticipate a return to the front for Dale Jr and the 88 team. But until then, it’s off to the Monster Mile at Dover.