Dale Jr. Buddies Up With The Enemy

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007
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There is never a dull moment around the man simply known as Junior.

First, it was the long-running spat with his stepmother and then the announced departure from his father’s company. Interesting indeed, but nothing compared to what came next. The sport’s favorite son will now be team-mates with perhaps his daddy’s biggest rival and possibly the most hated driver in NASCAR.

To the supporters of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr., no one sticks in their craw more than the driver of the No. 24 rainbow car. Whereas the Earnhardts are beer-drinking, yes-sir-talking, jeans-wearing, three-generation-deep sons of the South, Gordon is California, bottled water and Giorgio Armani whose Boca Raton address doesn’t exactly make him a good ol’ boy.

It wasn’t bad enough that he stole Miss Winston, Jennifer Brooke Sealey, from someone more proper, more manly, more southern in 1993, but he recently tread on holy ground by passing the driver of the black No. 3 on the all-time wins list. Lost on many of those most upset was the fact that Gordon won in much the same way as Dale Sr. did while earning The Intimidator handle.

So popular has Gordon been that he was booed while waving an Earnhardt flag in honor of his old rival following his victory in Phoenix that tied the hated Californian with the beloved son of North Carolina for career victories. The move was discussed with, and approved by, Dale Jr. and Richard Childress Racing (RCR) for whom Dale Sr. drove.

Things didn’t get any better the following week as he was greeted with a hail of beer cans after besting the senior Earnhardt in The Intimidator’s back yard at Taladega. Even his spotter had to have a security escort out of the stands. Again, another non-surprise from the multitude who have made Gordon Sucks web-sites and T-shirts a cottage industry? Now this carpetbagger is going to share the same garage with an Earnhardt. Unbelievable.

Even though many of Junior’s fans believe that Gordon really is the devil who does wear Prada, or other such girlie attire, this move comes as no shock. It isn’t even the first time Hendrick tried to sign The Intimidator’s boy. That came 17 years ago on a Topeka, Kan., dirt track when the heir apparent was only 15. Hendrick jokingly had Dale Jr. secretly sign a contract on the back of a napkin.

The history between the Hendrick and Earnhardt clans goes back to Junior’s grand-daddy who built cars for Rick Hendrick and helped him get into the racing biz. In addition, Dale Jr. and Hendrick’s son, Ricky, were very close until the younger Hendrick’s death three years ago at the age of 24. Rick Hendrick was one of the first to call Junior following the death of his father and was also there when Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, Dale’s sister and business manager, underwent surgery. This is an old and close relationship.

With the addition of Dale Jr., Hendrick Motorsports solidifies its spot as the most dominate team in NASCAR. It has won 10 of 14 races this season (as of this writing) with Gordon (No. 1 in points standing) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 4) tied at four wins. The loss of Kyle Busch will be a big hit, but that relationship had splintered and wasn’t likely to last. Casey Mears remains as a solid No. 4 guy with one win already under his belt this year.

The Hendrick team has won because of its teams’ ability to work well together - something that others have struggled with as teammates become competitors once on the track. Gordon and Johnson have had no problem sharing information, and their respective crew chiefs are best friends. If Junior can slide seem-lessly into the mix, he should have a great chance to capture the championship he has long coveted.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if Dale Earnhardt Inc. signs Busch and he’s given Junior’s old No. 8.

Talk about some angry fans.

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