Sports

CUP: Hendrick Will Evaluate Earnhardt, Struggling Team After Season

Team owner Rick Hendrick says he won’t make any changes to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports team until he evaluates it after the season is over.

Obviously happy with Earnhardt Jr.’s seventh-place performance Sunday at Martinsville, Hendrick is optimistic that Earnhardt Jr. will run well this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

It’s been a rough two years for Earnhardt Jr., who has not won a race since June 2008 at Michigan and has failed to make the Chase For The Sprint Cup the last two years. Lance McGrew replaced Tony Eury Jr. as Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief in May 2009.

The team, which finished 25th in the standings in 2009, is 19th going into the final four races of the year. Earnhardt Jr. is signed with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2012 season.

“We don’t try to make any changes until we get to the end of the year and we look at everything,” Hendrick said Wednesday following the announcement that the AARP Foundation will sponsor Jeff Gordon’s team through its “Drive To End Hunger” campaign.

“The drivers agree, we all agree, we’re just focused on what we’ve got to do to finish these four [races] and then we’ll take a look at where we are.”

Hendrick believes that Earnhardt Jr. could win for the sixth time at Talladega this weekend.

“I would not be surprised if he wins that race,” Hendrick said. “He’s awful good there and we put a lot of effort in it. We put a lot of effort in every week, but we put an awful lot of effort in this speedway deal, and we know that he’s as good as there is at drafting and running these restrictor-plate races.

“He ran second at Daytona, second at Talladega [in last two years]. I feel good about this race. We’ve found some things across the company going down there, so I hope we have some good results.”

Earnhardt Jr. should enter Talladega with some momentum after the Martinsville race, where he started 28th, led 90 laps and finished seventh. That finish was just his second top-10 in his last 14 races.

“He’s got an awful lot of pressure,” Hendrick said. “We’ve run better than we’ve finished in these races, but the Martinsville deal surely helped. He was excited. Monday, I talked to him.

“This thing is all about momentum. If you feel good and you feel confident and you know you’ve got a shot to win, you walk in on your toes. He’s human, so that plays into it, too.”

Earnhardt Jr. had two top-10 starting spots in the two races prior to Martinsville, but couldn’t back that up in the races, where he struggled.

At Martinsville, he started near the back and worked his way to the front in a car he had confidence in to make aggressive moves.

“It was good to see that, and I hope we see it again at Talladega,” Hendrick said. “I think we will. That was good. We’ve had sparks of that, but that was real good to lead that many laps and run with the guys that were really fast all day and outrun them.

“Good calls. Good pit stops. Everything clicked. So that was good.”

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