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Kenny Wallace: What if Dale Earnhardt Jr. Never Left DEI?

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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As Denny Hamlin has crossed his 50-career win threshold and Martin Truex Jr. is starting to heat up again, one particular fan asked none other than Kenny Wallace on social media if he thought that those two drivers were better than NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for many years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. When asked this question, Kenny recounts something another MPD in Bill Elliott told him: “Racing is all about timing and circumstances.”

Let’s discuss.

Kenny Wallace starts the video by talking about Denny Hamlin being with the same team his whole career, pointing at that being a key reason for his success: the consistency. Then, he takes a look at Martin Truex, who is more of a modern-day journeyman driver.

Look at all the teams MTJ has raced for: He started out at DEI when they were just starting what would end up becoming a steep decline. Then he went over to Michael Waltrip Racing. He did all right there as he was able to score a single win at Sonoma. But he was far from remarkable, as he was consistently outperformed by his teammates Clint Boyer in the No. 15 and Mark Martin/Brian Vickers in the No. 55. He was very much the third wheel at MWR.

Then, after spingate happened, he moved over to Furniture Row which was previously getting built up by the likes of Regan Smith and Kurt Busch. When they ran Chevy’s, MTJ performed, again, all right. But it wasn’t until the team switched to Toyota and paired up with Joe Gibbs Racing when we really got to see what MTJ could do as a driver.

Even as Furniture Row shut down and MTJ went to drive the JGR No. 19, he got to keep a lot of the same people who worked on that No. 78 car including his crew chief. So, as long as it took him to get going in his career, he was finally around the right people so that he could be the best driver he could be. Then, Kenny opens his argument by saying that Dale Jr. was destined to be better than how he ended up, again citing timing and circumstance as the key factors.

He first points out the obvious that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a very concussion laden career. He wrote a whole book about it (FYI: Racing to My Finish is a fantastic read…y’all should really pick it up if you haven’t already), he consciously documented the big one which happened in 2016 and took him out of the car for the second half of that season. But he had had concussions long before that, getting his first one when he flipped his AC Delco No. 3 car in 1998 at Daytona. Who really know what kind of effect that had on the course of his career? Most likely, only Dale Jr. truly knows that.

And then, in the video, Kenny mentions Jr.’s strained relationship with his mother-in-law and then team owner, Teresa Earnhardt. It is worth noting, here, that Kenny Wallace did drive briefly for DEI under Teresa’s time as owner, filling in for an injured Steve Park. So, for a short time, he acted as Dale Jr.’s teammate. Kenny describes all of this information as his “disclaimers”, or, things that one needs to know in order to carry on a meaningful conversation. Then, he states his honest opinion:

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. could have worked it out with Teresa, he would have went on to win a championship and won it all. That’s my opinion.

Kenny Wallace

Kenny then comments on the “dream team” that was Tony Eury Sr., Tony Eury Jr., and Dale Earnhardt Jr. For those who don’t remember, Tony Sr. was Dale Jr.’s crew chief from his rookie year in the then-Busch Grand National Series all the way through what is largely considered by fans to be his and that team’s best season in 2004. Tony Sr. was the crew chief and Tony Jr. was the car chief.

Now, it has been well documented in numerous episodes of The Dale Jr. Download that Jr. takes responsibility for how that breakup went down. Jr. made a decision that he didn’t want to work with the Eury’s anymore, so the 8 and 15 crews got swapped. Dale Jr. got Michael Waltrip’s old crew chief, Tony Sr. was given an executive role at DEI, and Tony Jr. was paired up with Michael Waltrip. And since that decision, Dale Jr. never rose to the same level of performance ever again.

In this video, Kenny states that he believes that if Dale Jr. and Teresa could have made up and made it work, the dream team could have gotten back together and Jr. could have gone on to have a career that would eclipse the likes of Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Because, per Kenny Wallace, Dale Jr. was one of the greatest drivers he had ever raced against.

As an example, Kenny recalls a time he was following Earnhardt. He states that Dale Jr. was impressive as to how loose he could drive a racecar considering that he had no dirt background. That’s shows excellent car control, and Kenny theorizes that Junebug was so good right out of the gate because he had watched his father all of those years and was emulating him.

Needless to say, things between Jr., JRM, and DEI ultimately didn’t work out. After Teresa claimed that she could make a new Dale Jr., DEI closed just a few seasons later. Dale Jr. to HMS sounded like a match made in heaven. It was right off that company’s best season in 2007 where both HMS drivers, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were fighting for the Nextel Cup.

I remember the rumblings at the time: Oh, Dale Jr. was going to go in there and start dominating. As Kenny points out in his video, that just didn’t happen. Not only did it not happen, he never got close to repeating the season he had in 2004 with the Dream Team that was that red DEI No. 8 Budweiser Chevy.

They [HMS and Dale Jr.] had it all. Dale Jr. was just better right there with Tony Eury Jr. and Tony Eury Sr.

Kenny Wallace

“Racing is all about timing and circumstance.” Kenny ends the video by saying, “Yes, Dale Jr. could have gone on to win more than Denny Hamlin, could have won more than Martin Truex, could have went on to win championships…if he could have stayed at DEI. But it didn’t happen.”

In The Stands

TheNaturalLift argues that the real question that should be discussed is what if Teresa hadn’t “destroyed DEI”? “Timing and circumstances”, my friend. There are a lot of factors that went into this. That could have been one.

Brandonkahuna claims that if Earnhardt Sr. hadn’t died, Jr. would have been much more successful.

Mikep1085 says that Dale was destined to be great…and even though things didn’t work out, he still made a HUGE contribution to NASCAR. I agree, friend. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame.

Tristin471 thinks that if Sr. had lived, DEI would have been a dynasty to this very day, possibly with Dale Jr. at some executive role.

What do you think, Daily Downforce readers? Let us know on all of our social media platforms and keep it right here for the latest in NASCAR news and NASCAR fan discussions!

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
All Posts