Note: This was originally posted on February 25th, 2007.
The photograph you see above is not Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing a burnout after a victory. The picture actually shows Dale Jr.'s final moments in the California race today. Before Dale Jr. went out with a blaze of glory, his team mate, Martin Truex Jr.'s engine also expired. Dale actually blew up once before, about 40-50 laps before the real smoke began.
I've read a lot today about how Nascar is using unleaded gasoline for the first time today. Lead in gasoline acts as a lubricant, and the lack of lead obviously means that the fuel all the cars used today is a little less slippery. Dale Earnhardt Inc. was not the only team with engine woes today, as we saw with Kasey Kahne, and to a lesser extent with Dave Blaney. Apparently Blaney's problem originated from the loss of the belt which drives the oil pump on his engine, so it's debatable as to whether he experienced the same problems that the DEI drivers and Kasey Kahne experienced.
One DEI driver, rookie Paul Menard did finish the race, finishing a respectable 20th. I imagine he watched the demise of his two team mates with obvious interest. I also imagine that he breathed a huge sigh of relief when he actually took the checkered flag and was probably pretty happy with his 20th place finish.
Unleaded fuel or not, what's going on in the engine department at DEI? Back when Richie Gilmore was running the shop, it seemed that DEI engines were very good. Richie got kicked upstairs a few years ago, and Dale Jr. has been complaining about his engines ever since. Earnhardt Jr., in fact, buys his own engines for his JR Motorsports teams from Richard Childress Racing. The official reason for this seemingly strange relationship is that Jr. and Richard are friends, and more than that, his famous father drove most of his career for Richard. I can buy that. But the fact is, in last night's Busch Series race, DEI equipped Paul Menard suffered a blown engine. JR Motorsports driver Shane Huffman did not, with his RCR engine.
The fact is no Richard Childress Racing engines, no Hendrick Racing engines, no Roush-Yates engines, and no Joe Gibbs Racing engines blew themselves to worthless scrap today. This race may have been a fluke, but Dale Jr. also blew up two engines at Las Vegas testing earlier this year. I seem to see a pattern developing here. Dale Jr., who last year finished 5th in points, is now 41st in points. In 3 more races, ALL of the DEI drivers will have to qualify on time if the present situation doesn't improve drastically. The DEI engine shop needs to do some work, obviously. In the meantime, I wouldn't mind seeing them buy some engines from either RCR, Joe Gibbs, or even Hendrick. DEI is bleeding now, and they might need to apply a temporary band-aid by buying other engines until they get Richie Gilmore out of his office, roll up his sleeves, and put a wrench in his hand once again.
How sad would it be to see Nascar's most famous driver go home and miss a race because DEI can't put good engines in their cars? DEI may not be the best team out there, but they don't deserve 3rd rate engines in their cars. Teresa Earnhardt needs to make a decision: Either build a top notch racing organization, or go into the tee shirt business and just forget about racing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. deserves better, and so do the other employees of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Back to more humorous stuff soon, I promise!