Earnhardt on the spot now

By Dan Gelston
Associated Press / May 31, 2009
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DOVER, Del. - All Martin Truex needs to do to gauge the enormous impact Dale Earnhardt Jr. has on NASCAR is to take a peek at the packed stands every race day.

The fans dress in Junior's colors, bring their No. 88 signs, and roar when his name is mentioned in introductions. Earnhardt's firm grip as NASCAR's most popular driver hasn't waned even as the wins have dried up. Somehow, the lack of trips to Victory Lane hasn't affected how "Junior Nation" feels about the son of the legendary former Cup champion.

Earnhardt is well aware that his devoted fan base was quick to blame crew chief Tony Eury Jr. for the No. 88's troubles (19th in points after a season-worst 40th-place finish at last week's Coca-Cola 600) and wanted Earnhardt's cousin booted from the Hendrick Motorsports team.

Well, the fans got their scapegoat, and now there's only one person to take the heat for Earnhardt's slump (one win in 48 races): Earnhardt.

"I feel like there'll always be pressure on me, I guess," Earnhardt said. "I'm all right with that. I've always had pressure on me and I don't mind."

With Eury booted from his crew chief job last week, team manager Brian Whitesell will call the shots at today's Sprint Cup Autism Speaks 400. Next week, Lance McGrew will take over on an interim basis at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

Brad Keselowski registered his first Nationwide Series victory of the season, taking the lead off a restart for the final seven laps of yesterday's Heluva Good! 200.