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Forget the Chase: Junior needs to focus on one race at a time

By admin | June 14, 2010

By Richard Allen

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. turned in a pretty good run on Sunday in the Heluva Good! 400 at the Michigan International Speedway. His 7th place effort was his first top-10 since seven races ago in Texas. The finish boosted Junior up two places to 14th in the overall Sprint Cup standings.

Soon after the race ended the TNT broadcast crew reported that Junior had moved up to 14th and that he was solidly in Chase for the Championship contention. That is the last thing Junior and his crew need to be worried about.

What the #88 team needs to focus on is running well at Sonoma this coming weekend. Then, they need to focus on carrying momentum to New Hampshire, then Daytona, etc…

Just because Junior finished well in one race after a string of less than stellar runs does not mean he is a championship contender. It will only be after this Hendrick Motorsports team proves they can have these sort of finishes on a regular basis that they need to start positioning themselves for the Chase.

After all, if they are not consistently strong then what difference would qualifying for the Chase make?

Tony Stewart commented after the race that there were other people on the Chase bubble who were far more concerned with their position in the standings than he himself was. He was more focused on the fact that his team had finally put together two solid runs. That is good advice coming from the only driver to have won a championship under both the old system and the new.

Stewart currently sits 11th in the standings with eleven races remaining before the playoff is set.

Junior had one good, solid run in which he was a fixture within the top-10 for most of the day. That is what it needs to be counted as, not a sign that he is ready to win a title. So don’t get excited TNT crew or anyone else. Where the #88 team goes from here is the key.

If Junior scores a few more top-10s then the team should begin thinking about the Chase. If he does not then they have other concerns.

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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.

Topics: Articles |

13 Responses to “Forget the Chase: Junior needs to focus on one race at a time”

  1. Larry Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I don’t get your comparison; TNT says he’s solidly in championship contention and what Tony had to say about his own team. Are you trying to say that TNT is off base with that statement? You didn’t hear Jr say he was solidly in contention. What he said was this is the kind of run they need to put together. Are you saying Jr is dreaming or TNT? Or are you telling us something the 88 team and all their fans already know? I quess I don’t see the point of this article.

  2. Richard Allen Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I’m saying Junior needs to be thinking more like Tony Stewart than like TNT, which he probably is.

    I’m also saying TNT was jumping the gun to start talking Chase after one good race.

  3. Clint Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I think the #88 team is turning a corner. They were a top 12 car all day at Pocono before the pit strategy call. If they can take it up one more notch, they will be there. Sonoma and New Hampshire will be key races. He needs a top 15 at Sonoma and a top 5 at New Hampshire. He does this and I am ready to talk #88 chase contention.

  4. yankeegranny Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Jr has to take it one step at a time. If Lance can continue to set the cars up like he has the last two weeks and Jr continues to build his confidence, give good feedback and stay out of wrecks, then, maybe, they will need to start thinking about the chase. I will feel a lot better about his chances if they have a decent finish this next week. Jr makes no bones about the fact that he dislikes the track; didn’t he say the best way to improve it was to blow it up? If he can run in the top 15 here, I think the 88 team might have turned the season around. Boy, I put some qualifiers( if, might) in that sentence.

  5. Justin Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    It is so funny to me, how quickly people will point out Jr’s “struggles” after one bad race. One 30th place finish, and stories come out about how he hasnt improved from last year. Then a good race, and everyone quickly says, it was just one race. Why is one race a good measurable for bad, but not a good measurable for success?

    This isnt directed at you Richard, just an observation. I agree with your over all point….

    When you look at Jr’s season, he hasnt set the world on fire by any stretch, but he has shown a great deal of improvement over last season. He has finished worse than 20th, only 4 times this season, nothing to necessarily brag about, but Jimmie Johnson has matched that in the last 6 weeks.

    As far as points go, Jr has consistently finished between 10-16 (7 out of 15). Again, nothing to make you think Championship, but a far cry from last season when he finished 24th every week. Even bad finishes arent necessarily a good measurement for how he performed. Take Richmond, he finished where he finished, not because they were terrible, but because of a few bad decisions (not taking the wave around, TWICE, set in motion the events that popped his tire). Minus that flat tire, the second half of the race Jr had one of the best cars on the track, being 4 laps down meant he could not show how good it was…..

    Not making excuses for Jr, it hasnt been a great year, but it hasnt been terrible either. He sits 14th in the standings, and his average finish is 16. That shows progress, Rome wasnt built in a day, and Jr isnt going to go from also ran in ‘09, to title contender in one off season…….

  6. Larry Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    I agree with you concerning TNT, but your other thought is an assumption on your part. Jr. doesn’t have his head in clouds, that why his responce was more calculated. As far as Michigan being a good run for him, he has run well there in the past. I am more inclined to wait and see if they can put together good runs at other tracks. I was glad he had a top 10 finish, but in my book ,at this point, it doesn’t mean much. It could just as well have been a fluke as a corner turning event. Time will tell.

  7. Marybeth Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I thought it interesting in his post-race comments, that when the last caution came out he thought, oh, shucks, NO!, or some facsimile of. I would like to see the cc Aric Almirola had on his pit box Sat., Richie Waters?, with Jr. I think that the two of them would work well together, Tums & all. :) Both old school guys.

  8. Marcus Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Agreed Rich. Junior has had top ten finishes here and there the past 2 years. The momentum usually continues only until the next sunday, and dies at the drop of the green flag. Sonoma is a ideal place to kill that momentum. He has always struggled there, and when he has a decent run, something happens. I think it will be good for the sport if Jr can at least be within reach of the chase come Richmond, but in order for that to happen…They need to make it through one race at a time, as you said.

  9. JONATHAN Says:
    June 15th, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I like what I read in this site, many point of views! i think Dale needs to start a new life style for him self. maybe get married and release stress, while he is at it.

    Dale is a good driver and he is in a slump, if he passes that stage he should be able to race with any team in the garage!

    He keeps trying to run low when he is the best driver when he runs high. He passed Burton when he is running and Burton got close when he ran low. Doesn’t anyone see that?

    Maybe he should run a little lower then he ussually does and he will be back to normal. I heard jimmie say that his driving style was like dales and he runs low all the time, jr runs high!

  10. Jamerson Says:
    June 16th, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Making the Chase has become about more than competing for the championship, in my eyes. Making the Chase is like a status symbol that identifies that a team had a good season. Brian Vickers made the Chase last year. Did anyone really think that he would win the championship? No. But it was a huge accomplishment for him to make the Chase. Even though there were only scant few points between he and 13th place Kyle Busch.

  11. Stephen Hood Says:
    June 16th, 2010 at 8:27 am

    I like Junior and I don’t care if he makes the chase this year or wins the championship next year. What I’d like to see is him win from time to time. I don’t care if he finishes 26th in the standings as long as he wins a couple of races. I don’t mind that Kyle Busch and Jimmy Johnson are better all around drivers. My guess is that if everything were equal Kyle and Jimmy would beat Dale’s ass at 70% of NASCAR’s tracks. But, there are three or four tracks where Junior would kick their asses more often than not.

    Until yesterday, I was a fan of the chase, but I realized it was making me miserable. I enjoy the races but I think the chase is a distraction. I’d rather see NASCAR use the points accumulated throughout the year to set the running order for the final race. Make the last race the championship and the winner the champion. Forty three teams battling it out in the final race to determine the champion. Starting position is set by points accumulated in the previous 35 races. Winner take all. If 43 cars are two many, allow the top 30 cars to race. 300 laps, mano y mano. The first thirty five races dictate who gets to race in the final. Some teams will be sitting at home.

  12. Marybeth Says:
    June 16th, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I think that Jr. will come out of his slump in 2 & 1/2 years.

  13. earl lewis Says:
    June 17th, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Yeah, i agree, junior needs a good run this weekend at the road course. If you look at history, earnhardts were always very weak at road courses. dale sr only won 1 road course race in his entire career! junior has never won a road course. junior sits 101 points from 12 th place, currently? In all reality , the chase just needs to be top 10 !!