Time's up, Junior.
On Tuesday, ESPN's announcers held a conference call to kick off the network's coverage of the remainder of the Sprint Cup season, and one of the key topics, naturally, was the progress (or lack thereof) of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree offered their take on the Topic du Junior:
"I thought five weeks ago, six weeks ago that I was really seeing Junior and his race team getting themselves prepared to go to victory lane," Jarrett said. "I mean, I really felt that they were making strides and gains each week. Exactly what's happened over the last four or five weeks, you get in slumps as a race team just like a hitter in baseball or something, and sometimes it's hard to get out of. You're not exactly sure where to put your finger and to try to turn things around."
"I think the Junior Nation, they're getting impatient a little bit," Andy Petree added. "They saw a spark, like Dale said ... I've always been a big fan of Steve Letarte. I think he's one of the best crew chiefs in the garage, one of the smartest guys, and at the same time I think he is a great leader. I would caution anybody [not] to start putting any pressure on him right now because I think he's doing what he needs to do for Junior."
"You always want, whether it's the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees playing, that's always a big attraction," Jarrett said. "Well, we have our biggest star; the people that vote for the most popular driver, that's who they choose is Dale, Jr., so yeah, we would like for him to be a part of that. Hopefully they can get that turned around. This is a difficult racetrack when you're struggling to kind of get things turned around, but they're going to have to right their ship very quickly."
In other driver news, Jarrett noted that he's got high hopes for one of Earnhardt's teammates, Jeff Gordon: "The conversation that he and I had about three years ago ... we were leaving a racetrack together and he was telling me how at that time he thought that maybe one, two more years at the most at that time was going to be it, and a recent conversation I had with him, he has no intentions of going away from this for quite a while. He's been loving it. He's more competitive, and that always makes you want to do it more. So I think we're going to see some good things to come from Jeff Gordon, possibly a championship this year."
Much to consider, much to discuss. So, your say: do you think Earnhart's got a chance and Gordon's got a future?
Oh, and ESPN's coverage begins Sunday at the Brickyard 400. So, you know, tune in.