Earnhardt's slump has touched all in the family
Changing drivers most likely isn't an option for this team.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
SONOMA, Calif. -- When things go wrong with a baseball team, the manager is the one who is probably fired; in football it's the coach who is let go.
In motor racing, the driver usually gets the boot.
But what if it's all family, the way it is with Dale Earnhardt Jr. The owner of car No. 8 is Teresa Earnhardt, widow of the legendary Intimidator and Junior's stepmother.
Things could hardly be going worse for Little E than they have through the first 15 races this season. He is in 17th place in Nextel Cup points, 503 behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 133 behind 10th place Kevin Harvick, the last spot eligible for the 10-race Chase for the Championship.
Worse, in 4,856 laps this season, NASCAR's most popular driver has led only five.
Now 30 and no longer the happy-go-lucky kid with the magic name, a rock band persona cheered every time he stepped outside his Budweiser hauler, even he is feeling the heat.
"Hopefully, there ain't no driver changes," he was quoted as saying -- only half jokingly -- on his website. "That is all I am worried about."
Mom is mum
Teresa isn't talking.
The situation probably won't get any better today.
For the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway, one of two road races on the 36-race Nextel Cup season, Earnhardt will start 10th in a 43-car field.
In five previous races on the 1.99-mile twisting hillside course once known as Sears Point, Earnhardt has never finished better than 11th.
Up ahead of him as they head through the curving left-hand first turn will be the Hendrick Motorsports pair of Jeff Gordon and Johnson on the front row. Gordon, a four-time winner and defending champion, qualified Friday in a track record 94.325 mph.
Through all the turmoil, which included changing crew chiefs for the second time this year four races ago, ramming the rear end of teammate Michael Waltrip in the Coca-Cola 600 and seeing his chances of making the Chase frittering away in a series of disappointing finishes, Earnhardt has maintained a Pollyanna attitude.
"My team's happy and I'm happy," he said Saturday. "We're getting into a comfort zone, if you will, and have gotten to the point where we're bringing cars to the race track we can work on and improve.
"We had a great car at Charlotte, we had a decent top-15 car at Pocono. Last week we had just outside a top-10 car but could never get track position at Michigan. We've got a car that's very competitive."
But the fact sheet says 33rd at Charlotte (Lowe's Speedway), 33rd at Pocono and 17th at Michigan.