(every Tuesday, Out of Bounds will feature “The Straightaway,” NASCAR commentary from Brazil-based Siddy Hall)
by Siddy Hall
JUNIOR + JEFF + JIMMIE = ANYONE BUT HENDRICK
Wow. One week after the announcement that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was planning on joining the Rick Hendrick Victory Garage, I’m still left shaking my head. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
In Daytona during “Speedweek” – when Little E became a Big E, or A, depending on your viewpoint, by dropping his bombshell that he was seeking a controlling interest in DEI – I was pumping my fist like he’d just won a race. I was like, “That’s right Junior! Show ‘em who’s the real Boss!”
But it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Because there was only supposed to be two options. Either he obtained DEI – in its entirety, hopefully – or he went to race for Richard Childress in the Black Number 3.
Rick Hendrick!!?? Why not Childress? What the heck happened? RCR has three good race teams and room for a fourth. From afar, it appeared that everything was perfectly in place for Junior to hop in the #3, or the #33, or the number #333 or whatever he liked.
Richard Childress has been oddly quiet and detached about the entire situation. It’s gotta hurt hearing that relationships played a big part in Junior’s decision and that his long successful relationship with Dale, Sr. was outweighed by Rick Hendrick.
Childress has been mum, but must have that “left out” feeling
This is strictly a guess, but I think having Jeff Gordon as a teammate may have played a larger role in Earnhardt’s decision-making than he’s let on. I recall Dale Sr. taking a strong liking to Gordon when the latter was enjoying his early success on the track. Dale treated Gordon more like a son than a rival. He regularly displayed a warmth toward Jeff that you rarely saw from The Intimidator. He never even punted Gordon into a wall.
Gordon (24) and Earnhardt, Jr.: Senior might have liked their new role as teammates
In spite of how “Earnhardt Nation” has fabricated a bitter rivalry between Earnhardt, Jr. and Gordon, it appears that this rivalry existed at least in large part in the imagination of the fans. Gordon has always shown class and respect toward the Earnhardts. And in the small bubble of NASCAR, that’s a bridge toward friendship that Dale, Jr. may be seeking on some level. Shocking as it may seem, he wants to hang out with his own kind and that kind may be none other than Jeff Gordon.
After years of bitterness that Junior fans have displayed towards Gordon’s “Kool-Aid Nation” it’s amusing to watch Earnhardt fans scrambling to justify the impossible contradiction of Little E sharing the same garage as the 24-Car. The most common justification is to invoke a sort of NASCAR version of patriotism. Any “true” Earnhardt fan will continue to raise their can of Bud to Junior regardless of the car owner.
But that is only one half of the equation. The other half is what to do about Jeff Gordon (and Jimmie Johnson). Do you still invoke the middle-finger salute as he drives by? I doubt that they will. Instead they may be forced to create some new arch enemy.
Personally, I never quite bought into the Earnhardt – Gordon rivalry. I’ve always liked both. If I were hard-pressed to choose one then I would go with Gordon. But I’ve happened to like both guys for the same reason. They’ve both displayed a lot of grace under pressure.
I disagree with critics that charge Gordon with being too robotic of a personality. He’s always come across to me as the real deal. A cool, classy dude that handles pressure well. And beneath the smooth exterior lies a thirst for winning that can’t be quenched. Part of his greatness is that he never gets bored with winning.
It’s always been about winning for Gordon
Likewise, Junior has handled a ridiculous amount of media glare and pressure with equal skill. It’s utterly amazing how much weight this guy carries on his shoulders. He really is royalty. He was born to carry NASCAR on his shoulders. He makes it easy to forget how tough a job that is.
So it’s actually fitting that the two kings of the sport (with apologies to Richard Petty) – Gordon and Earnhardt, plus the reigning champion, Jimmie Johnson – should become teammates in 2008. It has its own logic that extends beyond contract agreements.
If it’s high school again, the 3-J’s (Junior, Jeff & Jimmie), would be the ones surrounded by the pretty girls in the hallways. The Gibbs drivers would be a slightly lesser rival bunch. And the gang from Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates would be skipping classes to work on new tattoos.
The Budweiser 25: Jr.’s car # in ’08?
This is why in 2008, I say “Anyone but Hendrick’s.” Anyone but the 3-J’s. They’re too much. Individually, they are fine. Collectively, I can’t stand them. They make me feel like I’m cheering for the New York Yankees. They are supposed to win. And that ain’t no fun.
The Hendrick team, circa 1995
A note to Robbie Gordon: In 2008, fix your cross-hairs on those Hendrick cars. Juan Pablo Montoya (below), you’ll be my
hero if you do the same. Because if there is anything that I cannot stand, it’s a group of people who are clearly better than the rest. Hendrick Motorsports has won six of the last 12 championships, plus perhaps this year’s. Now they’re adding Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That’s too much. I can’t stand them now.
(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at yahoo.com)