By admin | February 22, 2010
By Richard Allen
Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are without question two of the biggest stars in NASCAR. Both drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Thatâ€™s pretty much where the similarities end.
Over the past four years Johnson has set standards that may never be lived up to by another driver. He has won four championships and 29 races in that time. His team is regarded as the epitome of how a race team is supposed to operate.
Junior, on the other hand, has been snake bit like few others before him. After winning 16 races in his first six seasons, his next four have provided little to get excited about. In the same time Johnson was going about the business of claiming ownership of the Sprint Cup trophy Junior only managed to eek out two victories. In that time, Earnhardtâ€™s team has seemed disorganized and ineffective.
Sundayâ€™s race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California continued the trends described above for both drivers.
Johnson had a strong car throughout the weekend. He qualified 7th and was at or near the top of the page during the practice sessions. Throughout much of the event he ran close to the front of the pack. But in the late stages of the event he received the break of the day.
Just after Johnson brought the #48 Chevrolet onto pit road, a caution flag flew. His crew was able to complete service on the car and get him back out ahead of the leader, thus keeping him on the lead lap. Other drivers who found themselves in the same situation were not as fortunate. When everyone else pitted under the caution, Johnson assumed the lead. After a brief battle with fellow Californian Kevin Harvick, he pulled away to the 48th win of his career.
Thereâ€™s an old saying that says something to the effect of luck is the result of preparation meeting opportunity. The pit road break was an example of the good fortune the #48 team so often finds and a great deal of that â€˜luckâ€™ is the result of preparation meeting opportunity.
The misery that has marked Earnhardtâ€™s career over recent years only continued on Sunday. An average qualifying run led into an average race for the #88 team until disaster eventually set in.
â€œIâ€™ve got a flat!â€ Junior frantically radioed to his crew.
â€œI think itâ€™s a broken axle,â€ crew chief Lance McGrewÂ declared in his reply.
â€œIâ€™m telling you Iâ€™ve got a flat!â€ Junior insisted.
After the crew changed four tires and dropped the jack it turned out McGrew was correct in his assumption. Then, chaos set in.
â€œWeâ€™d better have another axle on the pit box!â€ McGrew exclaimed to the scrambling crew members. It turns out they did not have a spare which sent crewmen rushing to the garage area to get one. After a few moments of waiting, McGrew told the team to push the car back to the garage. â€œWe can fix it faster back there,â€ he dejectedly explained.
Ultimately, Earnhardt wound up in 32nd place, twelve laps behind. This was a particularly disappointing result after having the 2010 season begin in a promising way in Daytona with a 2nd place finish.
For Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the Auto Club 500 proved to be business as usual. For one Hendrick Motorsports driver that was a good thing, for the other it was not.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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