In 2007 Junior Nation went crazy when Dale Earnhardt Junior signed with Hendrick Motor Sports (HMS). Junior came out strong with HMS and even won a race and made the chase. But once in the chase things went down hill in a hurry and for the next 2 years Junior was a side show for TV and Media more than a contender to win races.
Now it's 2011 and Junior is a surprising 3rd in the points after 7 races and Junior Nation is going crazy once again, saying he is going to win X number of races this year and he's a contender for the Championship etc. etc. etc.
However, I have another theory as to why Junior is doing well this season and will probably make the chase but then start his slide once again. The theory is 2 fold so hold onto your hat.
Part 1 of the theory is that Junior's sales are going down. While Junior still outsells all other drivers he sales are slowing down, And for Rick this is not acceptable. Rick wants that extra money so he can win championships with JJ and Jeff. Also, as Junior sales decrease it means more winning drivers and controvisal drivers like Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and others are gaining in the popularity ranks which may take an advantage that HMS appears to have with NASCAR away.
Part 2 and the heart of the matter in my opinion is Junior is in the 4th year of his 5 year contract and Rick wants him to extend for at least 3 more years and hopefully 5 more years. Why, would he want this if he is not interested in Junior winning. Well, read Part 1 for that answer. Rick doesn't want another team to sign him and lose that 80 million plus a year that Junior brings to HMS. So in order to get Junior re-energized he gives him a new crew chief and a little better equipment and Junior does well, regains his faith in HMS and extends his contract making Rick Hendrick a very happy and Wealthier man. I'll even say as soon as Junior re-signs we will start to see the Junior of the last two years, starting to make endroads.
What is going to be hard for Junior fans to swallow is Junior will extend this year. Why? Because Rick want's to push that issue. Reason? Kasey Kahne is coming to HMS next season and when he does he will be the number 3 man at HMS and Junior will rate number 4 again.
What happens if Junior does win a race this season? Well, I would be happy for Junior and most of his fans. It would be good for NASCAR as it would re-energize a particular fan base that is only in it because of Junior and the sport could use a shot in the arm in that direction. However, if he wins like he did in Michigan, and I'm not talking fuel mileage as many a driver has won using that stratagy, but the fact that he broke the rules and NASCAR did nothing but give him a warning then I would have a hugh problem with that.
Anyway that is my rant as to why Junior is doing well so far this year. It's all about the Money period. Rick Loves it and he will bleed Junior dry getting it.