Junior, anthem stop the show in Michigan

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

Here's something to chew on, Junior Nation: If your boy had averaged a 16th-place finish over the past five races, he'd be sitting in or just out of the top 12.

Sixteenth – is that setting the bar too high?

That's where we'll kick off this week's mailbag:

What's up with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Is is time for Dale Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports to part ways? Dale Jr. has missed the chase three out of the last four years. Nothing seems to have worked from changing crew chiefs to the car set-up. Would a change of scenery do Dale Jr. any good? He seemed to have more success with DEI than Hendrick. Or are the expectations on him too great because he is on the Hendrick team and in comparison to his teammates, he seems lacking?

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Michael Koltuniak
Plymouth, Mich.

I was all ready to say no way, it's not about whom he drives for; it's all about Junior and his own head. But then I went back and re-read a story I wrote before Junior started at Hendrick. In it, he says the following: "It took a lot of guts to [go to Hendrick], so I'm pretty proud of being able to just do it, just to do that. I could have popped out or went another direction, but I went in the best direction and I took the risk to put my career and my credibility on the line to work with a company that has won a lot of races."

That got me thinking: Maybe Junior actually thrives under pressure situations. Maybe being overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon actually strips away some of the expectations that, contrary to conventional thought, actually drive Junior, not bog him down. Maybe having the responsibility of his father's business on his shoulders was a labor of love.

In other words, maybe he is at his best when the expectations are at their highest, only that's not being Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports, that's being Dale Earnahrdt Sr.'s son at DEI.

Because let's be honest, the expectations really aren't that high for Junior right now. Does anyone EXPECT him to win a championship? Does anyone even expect him to win a race, let alone races?

The last time expectations were high for Junior – and I'm talking realistically high, not Junior-Nation-hopeful high – was the beginning of the 2008 season, when he first joined Hendrick. And guess what? No one was better for the first four months of the schedule.

Whatever's gone wrong since – be it he hasn't gotten a feel for the Car of Tomorrow, he hasn't jelled with his crew chief, he's not working hard enough, he's not comfortable at Hendrick, whatever – ultimately the responsibility to turn things around falls on Junior, not anything Rick Hendrick or Lance McGrew or even NASCAR can do.

Maybe Junior would be better off somewhere else. But a simple change of scenery won't be enough, not when he can't even average a 16th-place finish for the best organization in the business.

Harvick's good, not lucky

No wrecks, no DNF's … I believe Harvick has a golden horseshoe up his ass!

D. Martin
Billings, Mont.

Love how you turned that comment around on Harvick. When he made it, he was talking about some lucky breaks Jimmie Johnson had gotten – namely getting onto pit road at Auto Club Speedway just before a caution came out and barely being able to scurry off it ahead of then leader Jeff Burton.

But while Harvick doesn't have a DNF, he also hasn't relied on luck. Where he sits in the standings right now has everything to do with performance. So I wouldn't say he has a golden horseshoe. I would, however, say teammate Clint Bowyer must have cracked a mirror or walked under a ladder because that guy can't catch a break.

Who the heck is Saving Abel?

@#$% was with that national anthem????? The drivers and crews were having heck keeping their cool listening that. Great race though. Glad Logano's dad didn't show up.

Robert Haas
Richmond, Texas

Who in the world picks who sings the National Anthem at the races. Those two guys ( only one sang) at Michigan were awful. Very off key and disrespectful to our Armed Forces. As a matter of fact I turn the tv off and went out side. Talk about a bad image for Nascar. Thanks for letting me vent.

Butch Foster
Bristol, Va.

Dude sounded like he was a 45 being played at 33 speed, which was unfortunate because it prolonged the brutality of having to listen to him sing. At least when Roseanne Barr butchered the anthem, she did so in an ill-fated attempt at humor. But singing is what this guy does for a living.

The bigger question I have coming out of this is the revelation that Jay Busbee has a "couple of [Saving Abel] songs" in his iTunes library. Really? You got any Mr. Mister in there too?

Cookie-cutter debate

Hi Jay, I have a question I've not seen asked anywhere else in motorsports journalism. Maybe it's been asked, but I've not seen it. Here goes: Why is it that many fans criticize "cookie cutter" tracks in racing, but don't complain about football fields and baseball diamonds being the same everywhere? Those sports do well with their games played on identical fields. Can't racing be interesting amongst the competitors even if the track configurations are alike? What say you?

Bill H.
Reading, Pa.

First off, baseball fields aren't all the same configuration, and the ones that sort of were – ie. the cookie-cutter ballparks in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and St. Louis – people complained about.

The difference, Bill, is that the configuration of a race track profoundly impacts the show, and it seems fans like the variation between, say, running 190 mph at Daytona vs. Martinsville, where they top out at just under 100 mph. And being good at different racing disciplines is part of the test NASCAR poses. In racing, you're competing against the track as much as you're competing against your opponents. It's the same way in golf. Some people don't want to see the same or similar test every week.

Baseball and football are head-to-head sports. And in head-to-head sports, we tend to like the playing field to be as even as possible because, the idea goes, that produces the most deserving winner. But there are variables in these sports as well. Indoors vs. outdoors. Hot vs. cold. Home-run parks vs. pitchers' parks. This is what home-field advantage is all about.

Sure, racing can be interesting if the tracks are the same – just not as interesting, especially when you consider how some drivers dominate certain tracks. I love Martinsville, but I don't want to see 36 races a year where Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are swapping the lead for 18,000 straight laps.

Fantasy land

Here are my Fantasy NASCAR picks for the week:

A Group: Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards
B Group: Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr.
C Group: AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard

Last call …

Carl Edward's backflip looks nice on TV, but when you're at the actual race it sucks. Real men do burn outs so the fans can see something.

Andy W.
Burbank, Calif.

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