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September 18, 2014

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Would the No. 48 make Jr. great?

One of the things I’ve always admired about Dale Earnhardt Jr. is his refreshing honesty. When the microphones and cameras engulf his space and the questions start to fly, you can always count on answers that are free of the sugarcoated, corporate speak we hear from so many of the Cup drivers.

Last week, while answering questions from the media about the future of crew chief Lance McGrew, Earnhardt again spoke with his usual honesty. And in the process, Earnhardt displayed his frustration with this season’s results when he said: “I’m about to the end of my rope on it.”

Then, as usually happens after comments like this, the Internet chat room and blogs were abuzz with the debate over why Earnhardt hasn’t been performing as expected. The most serious question is always whether or not Earnhardt has the talent to reach the high bar of expectations that the sport and the fans have chosen for him.

Earnhardt is a proven winner. We all know that. And we can speculate for hours as to why he hasn’t visited victory lane more frequently as a driver for the best racing organization in the sport. I hate to admit it, but I sometime wonder if Teresa Earnhardt wasn’t on to something when she challenged Jr. to make a decision about whether he wanted to be a public personality or a race car driver.

Adding to Earnhardt’s frustration is the fact that his teammates, one of which is 50 years old, are kicking his butt.

So here’s a wild thought. How would Earnhardt perform in Jimmie Johnson’s car and with Johnson’s team? Now, before you start commenting here that I’m insane for suggesting this, let me assure you that I know this isn’t a realistic suggestion.

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Would Jr. perform better in the No. 48 car?

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But I’m curious as to how Earnhardt might perform in the best car in the Hendrick stable. Would he be faster in the Lowe’s Chevy? Would he benefit from the expertise of the best crew chief in the Cup series? Is Johnson’s equipment better? Or would we see the same performance with Earnhardt behind the wheel of the No. 48 as we have seen from him behind the wheel of the No. 88?

It would be an interesting comparison to explore, but we all know that, unfortunately, it will never happen.

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