CONCORD, N.C. – Despite the criticism that followed Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his 30th-place finish at Dover International Speedway, he doesn't feel the need to defend himself.
"The Franchise" has been fodder for talk radio all season. For the past decade, Junior has enjoyed a sheltered relationship. But now even his own fans are starting to question his dedication and effort.
"Oh, I'm sure a lot of people do. Ain't nothing I can do about that. I'm not going to argue with them. It ain't going to change some people's feelings about you."
Earnhardt started the season strong at Daytona with a second-place finish. But over the next 11 races he posted just two-top 10 finishes, led a total of 58 laps and earned an average finish of 16.6.
He appears as baffled about his situation as the rest of the garage.
"I don't know what to tell people other than as a driver I'm putting forth my best effort," Earnhardt said. "I feel like (crew chief) Lance (McGrew) does the same.
"The team all gets behind Lance and gets behind me. We're just working really hard. We aren't leaving any stones unturned to find where the competitiveness has gone."
Earnhardt qualified 24th at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon posted the fifth, 11th and 15th fastest qualifying efforts, respectively.
Following Earnhardt's dismal showing at Dover, he dropped out of the Chase Zone -- where his three teammates reside -- to 16th in the point standings.
"Dover was all my fault," Earnhardt said. "I went in there and didn't understand what my car was doing and made a lot of bad judgments as a driver."
But Junior insists he's far from giving up. He continues to work on the communication side of his relationship with McGrew and identify what the team needs to progress.
"We have a lot of great resources," Earnhardt said. "As we continue to get outpaced by our teammates, we have been getting more honest about what we feel our weaknesses are and what we need to work on.
"I definitely am not satisfied with running poorly and I don't think a driver in the garage is and I'm no different than those other guys. I want to run better and it beats me up pretty bad not to run good."