By admin | April 3, 2011
By Richard Allen
It was posted on twitter by several sources that when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed Kyle Busch for the lead on lap 480 of the Goody’s 500 at the Martinsville Speedway a loud cheer went up in the track’s media center. No one from NASCAR tweeted such information from the sanctioning body’s corporate suite but there was almost certainly a great deal of rooting, whether out loud or silently for the popular driver to go on to victory from that point.
After a feel good beginning to the year with upstart Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 and veteran Jeff Gordon ending a long winless streak in Phoenix, the 2011 season hit a bit of a snag in the ensuing weeks. Vast numbers of empty seats in Bristol and California as well as sinking television ratings revealed a possible return to weakness exhibited in the sport over the past several seasons.
A win by Junior could have been just the shot in the arm NASCAR needs and it looked very much like he had a chance to provide just that on the half-mile Virginia track. And best of all, it would have been a win that would have been free of question marks. There were no favorable rulings, no fuel mileage, no restrictor plates or no excessive attrition to aid the victory. Everything was aligned perfectly until Kevin Harvick passed Earnhardt with three laps to go.
Had everyone listened closely enough a large, collective moan might have been heard from NASCAR, the television networks, race promoters, sponsors, and apparently, the media when Harvick secured the lead and pushed Earnhardt back to his eventual finishing spot of second.
Even Harvick recognized how popular a Junior win would be, but he also recognized the need for it to be earned rather than gifted. “Man, I’m going to be the bad guy here but I gotta do what I gotta do,” he said of his winning move after the race.
The Texas Motor Speedway may see a jump in ticket sales this week for Saturday night’s race and Fox may experience better ratings for their coverage, but nothing like what would have probably happened had the sport’s most popular driver been able to get to the checkered flag first in Martinsville.
Perhaps there is one bit of good news NASCAR and its partners can take away from Martinsville, and that is Junior is likely to contend more often this season. It looks like he and crew chief Steve Letarte have found some chemistry.
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