Could Distractions be the Undoing of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?

by Ryan Isley

Sometimes in sports, timing can be everything. And timing just may not get any worse than this week for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

This was the season in which people thought Earnhardt, Jr. might just be able to finally win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and lift the trophy that his father raised a record seven times. Along with ending a 143-race winless drought at Michigan earlier this season, the 37-year-old from Kannapolis, North Carolina has had one of- if not his most – consistent season in his 13th full season in NASCAR’s top circuit. His 10 top-5 finishes so far are tied for the fourth most and his 18 top-10 finishes are the third most in a season in his career. His average finish of 9.9 is the best in his career by 2.3 places (previous best was 12.1 in 2004).

Unfortunately for Earnhardt, Jr., there have been some changes made to the racing team he co-owns with his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller – JR Motorsports. Just last week, Tony Eury, Sr. was released from his position at JR Motorsports. This week, it was Tony Eury, Jr. who was out of a job.

Eury, Jr. was the co-owner and crew chief of the No.7 car for JR Motorsports. If that car and sponsor seem familiar, it is because the driver of the car is Danica Patrick. Eury, Jr. is probably better known to fans as the former crew chief for Earnhardt, Jr. until the middle of the 2009 season. If it wasn’t enough that the team is going through such major changes at this point of the season, the Eurys are cousins of the Earnhardts.

Teams go through changes all the time, as NASCAR is a sport in which if you don’t win, you will be looking for a new job. JR Motorsports has two teams that run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Danica driving the No.7 and Cole Whitt driving the No.88. One of the reasons for the changes in the No.7 camp was that JR Motorsports has just three top-5 finishes (all from Whitt) and zero wins this season. Neither driver is a threat to win the Nationwide championship and while Whitt has had 10 top-10 finishes, Danica has managed just two top-10 finishes this season.

This would have been a bad situation no matter what for Earnhardt, Jr. with having nine races left in his season to worry about, but it is even more magnified with him in the middle of a potential championship run. Earnhardt, Jr. is coming off a long race in Chicago in which he was forced to start from the back after changing engines and fought his way up to finish eighth and keep himself seventh in points, 17 points behind leader Brad Keselowski with nine races remaining.

One has to wonder if the grind of the first race in the Chase along with the distraction going on with JR Motorsports will be too much for Earnhardt, Jr. to finish off the season as the series champion.

Winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is difficult enough without the added degree of difficulty brought on by outside distractions. If Earnhardt, Jr. does indeed pull this off with all of this going on around him, nobody will be able to say he didn’t earn it.

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