Thursday, September 01, 2011

Junior's New Deal Makes Sense. Sort Of.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage is nothing if not a study in contrast.

In this garage stall sits one of NASCAR’s multi-million dollar mega teams, with superstar drivers and gleaming transporters filled to the brim with state-of-the-art equipment and high-dollar, supportive sponsors. Next door sits one of NASCAR’s comparative “have nots,” a mid-pack team headlined by an unproven -- or slightly past his prime – driver, doing the best he can with hand-me-down equipment and minimal sponsorship.

This weeks NASCAR headlines also feature their share of contrast.

Hendrick Motorsports announced a new, five-year contract extension with driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., this week, cementing their relationship through the 2017 season. Meanwhile, Richard Childress Racing struggles to come to terms with Clint Bowyer on a multi-year extension of his decidedly less-lucrative deal.

While Hendrick cashes checks from sponsors AMP Energy and the National Guard totaling a reported $40 million per year, Childress scrambles to assemble sponsorship for roughly half that amount.

While Hendrick snuggles up with NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for another half decade, Childress scrambles and gambles in the hope that Bowyer will not be lured away by Richard Petty Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, or one of the other teams openly courting the Kansas native before RCR can set the contractual hook.

Statistically speaking, it doesn’t appear to make much sense.

In 204 career Sprint Cup starts over the last six seasons, Bowyer has won four times, with 30 Top-5 and 88 Top-10 finishes. Earnhardt has made 276 Cup starts in that same, six-year span, winning nine times, with 58 Top-5 and 101 Top-10 finishes. Thus at first glance, Earnhardt clearly appears to be the better bargain.

However, in the last five seasons, Earnhardt has managed only a single victory; that a fuel-mileage assisted triumph at Michigan International Speedway in 2008. Bowyer has been to Victory Lane five times, including twice in last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Earnhardt has just one Top-10 points finish in the last five years; a fifth-place showing in 2007. Bowyer has placed in the Top-10 three times and the Top-5 twice, highlighted by a third-place finish behind champion Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon that same year.

Earnhardt’s average points finish over the last five years is 15.8. Bowyer’s is 10.0.

Based on those numbers, Bowyer should be the man signing a lucrative, long-term contract, while Earnhardt sweats out a long, protracted and contentious negotiation. While Bowyer -– and before him, Carl Edwards -– are forced to deal with the considerable distraction of hashing-out their NASCAR futures in the midst of a championship battle, Earnhardt is able to announce 18 months in advance that he and team owner Rick Hendrick are ready to re-take their vows.

“I was like, ‘Hey, Rick, let's knock this out (so) we won't have to worry about it next year,’” said Earnhardt. “I'm really happy where I'm at, and if that's the way you feel, let's go ahead and do it. Why wait until next year, because the press wants to know what's going on, and we won't have to worry about it?”

Earnhardt says there was no need to delay discussions until next year, saying, “I just wanted to get it done before the off-season. I have another year to go, (but after) seeing how much attention it drew to Carl and those guys -- and to me when I was in my last contract year -- (I wanted to get it done).” He called Hendrick Motorsports “obviously one of the best places in the garage — if not THE best,” adding, “I wouldn't want to be anyplace else.”

Simple as that, the deal is done.

Make no mistake about it, Earnhardt didn’t have to return to the Hendrick stable. Despite wallowing in the throes of a personal, three-year winless streak, he could have signed a similar, long-term, monster contract with any major team in the Sprint Cup garage. Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske would do Edwards-worthy back flips in an effort to land the third-generation superstar, and while some observers continue to look disparagingly at fully sponsored drivers like Paul Menard and their continued ability to find quality rides in the Sprint Cup garage, Earnhardt remains NASCAR’s ultimate “Million Dollar Baby.”


  1. This is obviously not about the money or performance, Dave. It's not even about keeping Dale Jr on the track. It's about security for both Dale and Rick by keeping key people in place for the long arm of Rick Hendrick and the stability of Hendrick Motorsports in general. Dale Jr is more than a driver...he is an institution. Jimmie has 5 Championships. Jeff has a Hall of Fame legacy. Dale Jr has the masses, and will for the forseeable future, regardless of his performance on the track. It's possible that the driver that someday takes his place in popularity has not yet even been born.

  2. Anonymous5:32 PM

    It sounds to me like Mr Moody either doesn't understand the loyalty we feel toward Dale Jr or is a wee bit jealous of him.

  3. Anonymous5:59 PM

    you can really tell when someone dosent like someone can't we dave you must have been rubbed the wrong way. By someone. That's ok dave he has plenty of fans like me don't need you

  4. It's amazing how defensive some people get about Dale, Jr. Nowhere in the article is there a single derogatory statement about him; only a simple statement of the facts concerning his and Bowyer's statistics over the last five years. I applaud Junior Nation for its dogged support of their driver, through thick and thin. And as a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox who suffered through 40+ years of futility and heartbreak before winning ANYTHING, I understand it better than you know.

    My question -- and it was just a question -- is simple. If Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is worthy of such a contract, isn't Clint Bowyer, as well? Answer it any way you like.

  5. Why would any Dale fans be complaining about this article?

    It's not critical of Dale. Most folks in Dale's shoes would do what Dale's doing, after all.

    Dave is just describing an aspect of the sport in a very interesting way.

    I'm not a big fan of NASCAR, mainly because of Dale Jr's fans. I've always thought Dale himself was a pretty nice guy. It's really strange to me that such a nice guy has so many hostile fans.

    "Matriach", no, I don't understand your "loyalty" to him. Why are you loyal to a race car driver? It doesn't look like you're having a very good time with that oddly insecure tone. It doesn't really evoke any sense of Dale Jr-ness, either. This Dale guy doesn't really seem to get a rise out of much. He's like lukewarm oatmeal, and I don't mean that as an insult. He's happy with his situation, and I don't blame him, and I don't think he's got what it takes to prove anything.

    I can see Kyle Busch or Jenson Button fans being aggressive and insecure, but why aren't Dale Jr fans kind hearted and happy? I'm pretty sure it's a running joke in NASCAR that anyone who is less than worshipful towards Dale Jr faces a legion of angry fans.

    Do you think Dale Jr is pleased with that? I bet he's embarrassed and annoyed.

    Anyway, this was an insightful article. NASCAR is not unlike other motorsport in that the line between have and have-not is somewhat arbitrary. But it doesn't determine destiny. Clint's going to have a pretty good ride under him. Average drivers will never win championships.

  6. Darcie12:00 PM

    Why is it that when anyone has the audacity to criticize anything or anyone, the only come back people have is "You're just jealous."? Can't come up with anything original? Just because I might not like something or someone that you do, it definitely is not jealousy. I just don't like the same things/person you do, plain and simple. Moody has made a very interesting comparison between two race car drivers and their success in the sport. Nothing critical about either. Face it. Jr is a cash cow, but Bowyer is not, at least not like Jr. Why shouldn't a savy businessman want someone like Jr in his stable? Johnson and Gordon can win Hendrick championships while Jr can win at the die cast/tshirt/cap store.

  7. Dustin, absolutely fabulous summary. I don't dislike Dale Jr but one of the reasons I am not a fan is how his fans treated me and MY favorite driver over the years. Hostile is a really good word for it.

    I've had morons wearing Jr gear curse at me and throw bottles at me. Why? Because they didn't like my driver. too bad. So all you Junyah fans are going to have to excuse me if I continue to not like most of you or as a result the driver that you worship.

  8. Anonymous6:11 PM

    You know, I just don't know about this one to be honest. I mean, I am a loyal true fan to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and will always support him, but I just don't think this extension is such a great idea. Look, I mean, Rick Hendrick promised this man a moon with a fence around it. Wins and Championships. All this man has gotten is one lousy stinkin' win on a fuel mileage race going on 4 years ago. Now, if you ask me, that just plan low and embarrassing for a driver who is NASCAR's Most Popular. Now I am sure people are going to be saying "Oh, he is doing a lot better than he has been the last few years." Well, yea okay, but your missing the point here, there is no wins to back up the statistics. You know to this day, I don't know why he left DEI, I really don't. He was the best driver out there and was winning races, all he and Teresa had to do was work out their differences. If it wasn't for those blown engines in 2007, he would have for sure made the Chase. No matter what though, I will support Dale, but I feel this will not work at all.