By admin | April 7, 2011
By Richard Allen
For the first time in quite a while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. looked like he had a legitimate shot to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in the last ten laps this past Sunday at Martinsville. Had he really pressed the one advantage he has over every other driver, he might well have visited victory lane for the first time in almost three years.
Without much doubt, Junior is the most popular driver in the sport. That could provide him with a unique weapon in late race shootouts should he choose to use it. No one, with the possible exception of the Busch brothers, wants to be the subject of scorn and hate. Any driver who spins Junior out in the final ten laps of a race is going to be the subject of exactly that. The weapon he has at his disposal is his immense popularity advantage over everyone else.
Seemingly, all Junior had to do on Sunday, especially on a single groove track like Martinsville, was block his closest competitors and force them to take an aggressive approach to beat him. Eventual winner Kevin Harvick admitted after the race that he considered the ramifications of an Earnhardt win for the sport. Almost certainly, even the often brash Harvick also considered the ramifications of taking out the hero of half the grandstands.
Granted, blocking another driver for ten laps is not as easy as it sounds. And, I’m sure he was trying to do just that to a degree. However, keep in mind that tip-toeing around behind a driver you do not want to spin out could be just as daunting a task.
Kyle Busch spun Junior in Richmond a few years ago. Because of that, he became a target of the so called ‘Junior Nation’, a role he has seemed to relish. However, most drivers, or people in general, do not like being the bad guy.
It would be to Junior’s great advantage to use the weapon he has over everyone else. Every driver on the track seeks to find every edge possible. Every other driver on the track would love to have this same advantage available. Using the other driver’s fear of being labeled as the bad guy could have given Junior a win in Martinsville.
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