By admin | June 29, 2010
By Richard Allen
A couple of weeks ago after a good finish in Michigan I wrote a piece in which I said that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his team, and even his fans did not need to concern themselves with making the Chase for the Championship until the #88 team proved it could string together a series of good finishes rather than just one good result from one race.
Well, now it would seem as though this Hendrick Motorsports team is in the midst of stringing those solid finishes together. In Michigan, Earnhardt placed 7th. Then, in Sonoma, a place where Junior has not exactly experienced the greatest success, he finished 11th. And lastly, this past weekend in New Hampshire another top-10 was added to the list.
The thing about these runs that would indicate this is indeed a true turnaround is that the #88 has run in the front one-third of the pack most of the day and ultimately maintained for a good result. These have not been instances of Junior running 25th all day then having some bit of luck place him in the top-10 at the end.
â€œWe unload top-10 at the beginning of the week,â€ Junior said after New Hampshire. â€œThe next step for us, I guess, is to make improvements from there.â€
So, what has brought about this resurgence?
â€œWeâ€™ve been working really hard,â€ the driver said. â€œSometimes that bears fruit. (Crew chief) Lance (McGrew) is working really, really hard. Heâ€™s taking care of the car and thinking all the time.â€
Granted three top-11 finishes do not a championship challenge make. However, considering where this team has been, three consecutive solid finishes do indicate signs of life that have not always been there this year.
It may still be too soon for this driver, team and the many fans that follow them to start thinking of anything other than the next race. But, with only nine races remaining until the Chase cutoff, Junior finds himself in 13th place of the overall standings just three points out of the all important 12th position.
I, for one, am not prepared to call Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a Sprint Cup title contender, but I am prepared to say that he and his team have shown remarkable improvement over the past three weeks.
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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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