Want to know why Dale Jr. is happy? It's the sum of all the parts
From being in a steady relationship with girlfriend Amy Reimann to driving consistently fast race cars to clicking with crew chief Steve Letarte, NASCAR's most popular driver is flying high these days.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates with girlfriend Amy Reimann after winning the Daytona 500 back in February.
Mike Dinovo / USA TODAY Sports
By Jeff Hammond
I know everyone is excited that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won on Sunday at Pocono. You also have to be really impressed that the last four races have all been won by a Hendrick Motorsports driver. I think, however, we'd be remiss if we didn't take notice of how much better Stewart-Haas Racing has also been.
At one point last Sunday you had three of the four SHR drivers in the first three positions on the track. Tony Stewart's speeding penalty hurt his day. Kevin Harvick had another tire problem. Kurt Busch, on the other hand, finally got a great finish. He led five laps and finished third. That's a real shot in the arm for that team.
I think team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas are starting to see the fruits of their labors. I think they are finally starting to see what their vision had always been. While their cars are up front, as a whole they now have to work on their consistency. Being up front at the halfway point of the race as three of their cars were is great, but where they are at the end of the race obviously matters the most.
That's really the biggest difference between them and their alliance partners at Hendrick Motorsports. Both organizations have been in position to win, but the Hendrick teams have been able to close the deal out. If you don't believe me, well again, go look at who has won races this past month.
It's all about winning now. We've driven that into your heads week after week. Sure, Kevin and Kurt combined have won three races, but if you look at the rankings, you'll find Jeff Gordon leading the points. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., fresh off his Sunday win, has moved up two spots to third. Jimmie Johnson is fourth. You have to go all the way down to 12th to find your first Stewart-Haas Racing driver and that is Kevin Harvick. So that's the big area of improvement that Stewart-Haas Racing has to target.
I loved how Dale Jr. performed Sunday. It was some place different than a superspeedway where everyone expects him to win because of his last name. When Dale Jr. is driving the car like he should, he's a lot of fun to watch. When he wins he is even more fun to watch. He's been beat up so bad in the past for what he hasn't done, that he really gets excited and appreciates it more now when he wins. I think there has to be a lot of personal satisfaction that Dale Jr. enjoys because he can say to himself again, "See guys, I knew I could do it and now I've figured out how to do it."
We don't know if his crew chief's impending departure at the end of the year has them both motivated more than ever. It might be the stability and happiness on the home front with his girlfriend. There's really not one factor that made it happen. It's the sum of all the parts, but the bottom line is the man is happy. Trust me, I know first-hand that when your driver is happy and has God-given talent behind the wheel of a race car, the sky is the limit.
So right now after 14 races, Hendrick Motorsports is clearly the dominate organization in the sport of NASCAR. Sure, the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne has a lot of work to do to catch up with their three teammates. That is going to have to come from within that team because obviously the cars, the engines and the engineering over there are winning races for the other three, so it's not like the No. 5 doesn't have some resources to fall back on. If they get their program turned around, then that's going to be a really scary thing to everyone else in the garage area because that means Hendrick Motorsports can be even more dominant.