After months of hype and speculation, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fulfilled a promise on Saturday night. It was a promise he made to his team and to his fans, but more important, it was a promise he made to himself. Dale Jr. was back in Victory Lane!
It was a non-points event, but it was still a huge victory for the 88 team. After months of speculation that finally led to Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving the team that was started by his father, and joining Rick Hendrick Motorsports, a racing team that many Earnhardt fans have always considered the 'Dark Force', Dale Jr. got back into Victory Lane for the first time in well over a year. Dale Jr. showed us the finesse that won his earlier victories on the tracks at Daytona and Talladega. As Tony Stewart said after the race, and I'm paraphrasing, Dale Jr. might be the best restrictor plate driver that's ever lived.
Many fans and reporters have been critical of Dale Jr.'s talent over the years. Is he only good on RP tracks like Daytona and Talladega? Jr.'s other wins include Phoenix, Bristol, Richmond, Chicago, Atlanta, and even the All Star race at Charlotte. He's won at what many consider a very difficult track in Dover. Yet people persist in questioning his talent.
I have a theory for this. Readers that are familiar with me know what my theory is, but I'll repeat it again. Jealousy. Pure jealousy. I read message boards of drivers who have not won 1/10 of the races that Dale Jr. has, and some of them have been driving much longer. They always blame the losses on equipment, but never on talent. Dale Jr. has driven with sub par equipment for the last several years, but has managed to claw out a few wins. Dale Jr. now has the best of all worlds now. He's got the best equipment, he's got the best people behind his efforts, and he's got a renewed drive to win races.
Dale Jr. is not alone in being criticized for lack of talent. Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have been criticized as having no talent as well, and their combined 6 Cup championships and 114 combined Cup victories are simply the result of cheating. Now that Dale Jr. has joined the team, I imagine that those claims will become even more prevalent.
As a fan of Dale Jr., I don't really care. My driver is back in Victory Lane, and let the haters hate all they want to. Last night, the haters were also the losers.