Busch's remarks on Junior ring true
DOVER, Del. -- So was Kyle Busch wrong?
No, just candid. As usual.
What infuriates Junior Nation so much about Busch's barbs at their icon is that the remarks usually hit a nerve, dead center.
If you don't believe me, ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. himself, who didn't argue for long with Busch's remark that "it's never Junior; it's always the crew chief."
After initially bristling, and retaliating that "he's always had a chip on his shoulder for me," Earnhardt considered the situation further, recognized the truth when he saw it, and pretty much laid out the ways Busch is right.
Earnhardt punctuated his analysis of himself and his team with, "Like Kyle said "
It all started Friday morning after Lance McGrew, named Earnhardt's interim crew chief to replace the nationally and unmercifully maligned Tony Eury Jr., sat down and chuckled to himself and the media in a manner very much like that of James Bond laughing ironically at a virtually impossible predicament he's gotten into.
"Yes," McGrew said at Dover International Speedway, as if confirming to M via satellite radio, "next week at Pocono we'll take the reigns of the No. 88, and" -- and here there was an especially devil-may-care lilt of glee -- "see what we can do."
He shrugged, smiled, seemed to have spent the last 24 hours reading his Tennyson -- "Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die" -- and rode ahead as ordered by team owner Rick Hendrick.
Then came Busch, who'd worked with McGrew at Hendrick in the Nationwide Series in 2004. Busch could barely conceal his pity for the crew chief.
"He's got his hands full, I guess," Busch said of McGrew. "And if Junior doesn't run well, then [McGrew] is going to be the 'problem' again."
Earnhardt didn't like that at first, but after pondering, after taking a pounding of questions about what sort of pressure McGrew faces as the new crew chief -- and expected savior -- for NASCAR's most popular driver, Earnhardt let the "like Kyle said" agreement set in.
"Lance'll be under an immense amount of scrutiny and criticism," Earnhardt said.
"Like Kyle said, most people have always been on Tony Jr.'s case and never really pointed the finger at me "
Then slowly, resignedly, certainly, Earnhardt acknowledged that, even if McGrew, like Eury before him, takes one for the megastar, then eventually all the onus will fall on Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Eventually, the only person who'll have to answer to my success is me," Earnhardt said. "Whether that's from here forward, I don't know.
"But eventually I'm going to be the one who has to answer to the fact of how much did I live up to my father's name, and how much did I live up to his wins, and everything he accomplished, and how much did I live up to everyone else's expectations -- all my fans' and all the media's expectations.
"And obviously, when you put yourself at Hendrick Motorsports, you're in the best equipment and should win races.
"And if you don't, that really makes for a hard argument that you had any business being there in the first place."
You want it any more direct than that, Anti-Junior Nation? Or do you, Junior Nation? There it is, all on the table, for both warring sides.
"So we've got to work hard to get ourselves that argument," Earnhardt said.
He is hopeful, because "Lance is a pretty tough guy. He tells you like it is. Doesn't pull any punches. I'm excited for somebody like that to come in and be aggressive with the team, because you don't really get anywhere when you have people telling you what you want to hear."
What malfunctions or dysfunctions -- Earnhardt and Eury are first cousins -- led to the tailspin in their season that left Hendrick with no choice but to separate them?
First a platitude, and then more owning up from Earnhardt: "There really isn't one thing you can put your finger on as to why it didn't work," he said, but quickly added: "I take full responsibility for making some mistakes along the way -- especially this year. I would definitely say that I haven't been on my game.
"I shoulder any amount of responsibility that's necessary, and that everybody feels is fair, for the fact that we didn't make this work."
So fire at will, Anti-Junior Nation. Earnhardt won't argue.
He will say that he and Eury and the entire Hendrick organization "were definitely trying our hardest; we really were. We had a lot of meetings, and we sat down and talked it out, and talked it out, and tried to get a better approach each weekend, a different approach.
"We changed a lot of things about how we set the cars up and everything
"And we just kept going backwards."
So, Earnhardt loyalists, you may call Kyle Busch obnoxious, arrogant, belligerent, whatever.
But don't call him wrong.
He wasn't. Even Earnhardt acknowledged that it's "like Kyle said "
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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