By admin | August 2, 2010
By Richard Allen
On July 20th I wrote a column in which I predicted Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would make the Chase for the Championship. At the time it did not seem like such a bad call. After all, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was in the 13th position in the Sprint Cup standings with still plenty of time to work himself up one more spot by the 26th race.
And more, Junior and his team seemed as if they were finally coming together. Prior to the race in Chicago on July 10th, they had scored four straight top-11 finishes and looked fairly competitive in doing so. Also, it did not seem as though anyone directly in front of him in the standings was set to take the preverbal bull by the horns.
I along with many in â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ had taken a swig of the Kool-Aid, or rather the Amp.
Particularly, I predicted that Matt Kenseth would be the driver to fall out of the top-12 and allow Junior in. Kenseth has not exactly been clicking off the top-5s since then but he has not failed so miserably as to allow those behind him to make a significant gain.
Since that prediction, the #88 car has placed 27th two times in a row at Indianapolis and Pocono. The trouble for Junior now is that there are only five races remaining until the Chase cutoff in Richmond and the gap between him and the top-12 has widen rather than shrunk. And to add to the troubles of the 36 year old driver, his teammate, Mark Martin, has passed him by in the standings.
Every driver that gets ahead of someone trying to make the top-12 poses a problem in that the falling driver does not hold his fate in his own hands. Instead, he must depend on others having problems along with his own good runs.
In Indianapolis, Junior found himself a victim of circumstances when the wrecked car of Juan Pablo Montoya veered across the track and hit his #88. In Pocono, engine troubles soured his day after a bit of pit strategy had put the HMS Chevy near the front of the pack. However, the most troubling thing about those two runs for the driverâ€™s legion of followers is that even without the late issues in both, Junior looked to post finishes in the mid-teens at best.
Junior is now 129 points behind 12th place Clint Bowyer. While it certainly not beyond the realm of possibility for such a gap to be made up, it will not be with 27th place finishes.
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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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