Roll back in time to the middle of March, 2001. Richard Childress was still reeling with the aftermath of losing his best friend and long time driver, Dale Earnhardt. Richard was still struggling with the idea of racing again after the shocking loss of Earnhardt. He had put a new driver in the old 3 car, painted it white, and put the number 29 on it. Kevin Harvick went out and won Atlanta in only his 3rd Winston Cup start. But Richard had to be wondering what his future would be 7 years ago.
Scroll ahead to March 16, 2008, and we see Richard Childress standing triumphantly in Victory Lane with his driver Jeff Burton, who has just won the Bristol race. What's better than standing with your driver in Victory Lane? Knowing that all 3 of your drivers finished the race 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. That has to be a dream come true for any owner in the business.
Congratulations to Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer as well. Bristol is always a great place to get a good finish, and standing with your teammates in the top 3 spots is an awesome achievement. It appears that the DEI/Childress engines are working well, and that has to be pleasing to everyone involved.
Strangely, DEI did not fare as well as the Richard Childress Racing drivers did, but there was one very pleasant surprise. Aric Almirola finished 8th in his very first race in the 8 Army Chevrolet. He was the best finishing DEI driver, and what a birthday present that must have been for the young Almirola.
Once again, Rick Hendrick Motorsports stuggled. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished 11th and 18th respectively. Casey Mears had a tough day and finished in 42nd place. By sheer will or brute force, or possibly both, Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again managed another top 5, finishing in 5th place. HMS' newest driver once again finished ahead of his teammates.
There was some talk last night, mostly begun by a caller to Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel show on the Speed channel, that obviously was meant to stir up some controversy. The caller insisted that Hendrick was giving all the "good stuff" to Earnhardt Jr., and that Jeff and Jimmie were taking a fall in order to make Dale Jr. look good. Basically, Jeff in Jimmie are being given inferior equipment in order for Dale Jr. to appear to be a better driver than he actually is. The insinuation once again is that Dale Jr. has no talent, whatsoever, and the only way he's getting decent finishes is either because he cheats, or Nascar and Hendrick give Dale Jr. much better equipment than anyone else.
Such sheer lunacy as this is almost beyond belief, but sadly, there are a lot of fans of Nascar out there who believe that any time their favorite driver loses a race, it's because the drivers that beat him cheated or Nascar gave the infamous 'nod'. Any serious fan who has watched the sport for longer than a couple of years realizes just how ludicrous and idiotic this is.
Nascar is driven by sponsorship. Crew chiefs and sometimes drivers do try to cheat, but in the end they get caught and docked points. Sooner or later, the cheaters get caught. The penalties are stiffer now then they've ever been. Just ask Carl Edwards what happens when the tank comes off of your oil tank. I imagine that Office Depot and other sponsors of Carl Edwards were happy with his win, but probably not very happy with the 100 point penalty.
Sponsors invest money in Nascar for one reason, and one reason only. The want to get people to notice them. It's called advertising. The average sponsor shells out millions and millions of dollars every year to have their names plastered across the hoods or quarter panels of the race cars. If Nascar were to attempt to throw a race, it would be impossible. Other drivers and teams will not simply lay down to let a competitor win. Sponsors would riot. They would also leave the sport. People would also talk. The only place I ever hear talk of Nascar throwing a race is from the most predictable place: The fans.
Consider the sponsorships involved at Hendrick Motorsports. Do you really think it's possible that DuPont and Lowes would idly stand by while Rick Hendrick gave all the good equipment to Dale Jr.? There is absolutely no way, I repeat no way, that anything of the sort would ever happen. Racing is a business, and sponsors drive this business. When a driver is having a bad season, the sponsor starts getting nervous. They start asking themselves if their money is being well spent, or should the go find another car to sponsor? Or, should they just forget putting their money in to racing at all?
There is too much at stake for Rick Hendrick here. He cannot afford to throw 2 teams with 6 championships between them under the bus. Rick did not get to where he is by being stupid. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s drive and determination to win are very easy to see. He's got the longest drought going for winning points races among the 4 HMS drivers. He wants to win, and he wants to win badly. He's already won the Bud Shootout, and his Daytona qualifying race, but they were non-points events.
For some fans, the truth could be stranger than the fiction they've been dreaming up. It's possible that Dale Jr. is actually a good driver, with a ton of motivation, backed up by a competent crew chief and a good team. I know that is the last possibly theory that the Dale Jr. haters will accept, but sometimes, you've just got to take the blinders off and look at the truth.
Congratulations to Richard Childress. Yesterday was a long time coming, but you deserve it. You've got some great drivers, and yesterday, you put them in the cars that were the best when it counted. My hat's off to you, RC.