Earnhardt stuck in tangled web

February, 23, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Clicking on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s official Web site.

A solid black page comes up.

Clicking again.

Another blank black page.

Maybe it's my computer. Maybe it's a glitch in the system. Maybe Earnhardt's Web site has befallen the same fate as its driver and crashed.

Two races into the Sprint Cup season NASCAR's most popular driver is 35th in points. It's not the worse start in his 10-year career, but it's close. In 2007, he crashed and finished 32nd in the opener at Daytona, followed by a 40th at California due to engine problems.

This year, he caused a big crash and finished 27th at Daytona and was 39th at California due to engine problems.

It's not an impossible hole to climb out of. In '07, he rallied with four straight finishes of 14th or better to move to 11th in points. But he never captured the consistency it took to get into the top 10, and he finished 16th in the final standings.

In 2003, before the 10-race Chase format, he started 35th and 33rd. He turned that into the best point total of his career, finishing third behind Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

But this start feels different. It's not so much the poor finishes, because Earnhardt had cars capable of finishing in the top 10 in both races. He may have been good enough to win at Daytona.

It's the negative vibes that surrounded the finishes. Earnhardt made two rookie-like mistakes on pit road to put him a lap down at Daytona, and then was vilified by many of his faithful fans after causing the 10-car wreck that took out many of the top cars.

On Sunday, his day ended because one of the dependable Hendrick Motorsports engines failed after he'd moved from the rear of the field to within eyesight of the top 10. HMS, by the way, lost only two engines all of last season.

Maybe things will turn around this week at Las Vegas, where Earnhardt always gets good odds because of his popularity. He has twice finished second there, including last season when he had one of the best starts of his career.

Or maybe it won't turn around. Maybe it'll be like it was from 2004-2006, when he had consecutive finishes of 35, 42 and 27.

Maybe I'll click one more time to see if Earnhardt's Web site is faring better than his season.


Another blank black page.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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