By admin | June 8, 2011
By Richard Allen
Of all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, no one seems to have been more affected by the recent run of fuel mileage contests than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And as much as the driver himself, the fans known as â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ have suffered as their favorite driverâ€™s three year losing streak seemed all but ended on two separate occasions. But each time, the victory celebration for the sportâ€™s most popular driver was terminated before it ever began.
In the Coca-Cola 600, Junior came so very close, running out of fuel with the checkered flag literally in sight. Kevin Harvick seized the opportunity and blew past the popular driver just yards from the checkered flag.
In the STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway, Junior found himself on the other side of the fuel mileage stretch run. In that race, he needed the driver in front of him, Brad Keselowski, to run out of gas. Unlike the leader in Charlotte, Keselowski made it to the end.
It seems as though Junior loses out no matter which side of the equation he ends up on. Ironically, the #88 driverâ€™s last win was achieved on a fuel mileage stretch in Michigan over 100 races ago.
For the members of â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ there is either good news or bad news, depending on your perspective. The Pocono Raceway has always seemed to be one of those tracks that lends itself to races that end in fuel mileage stretches. The trackâ€™s strange layout tends to spread the field out, which often results in fewer cautions. The long green runs often times encourage some to gamble that they can conserve just enough in the tank to finish with one less stop than their competitors.
The good news going into another potential gas saving race is that Junior has been able to place himself in contention in those type races. Should Sundayâ€™s event end the same way as the previous two Sprint Cup, the odds seem to indicate he will again be in the hunt.
But there is some bad news as well. The problem is that Junior has been in contention but he and his crew havenâ€™t quite been able to find the winning formula. So, another fuel mileage coast could end in more disappointment for this driver and his fans.
Perhaps a more serious concern for Earnhardt is that in recent years this track has not been a good one for him. In his last four starts on the 2.5 mile â€˜tricky triangleâ€™ Juniorâ€™s best finish has been a very mediocre 19th. However, new crew chief Steve Letarte has noticeably improved this teamâ€™s performance so far this season so those results must be taken with a grain of salt.
Ultimately, thereâ€™s at least a decent chance this weekendâ€™s race in Pocono will turn into yet another fuel mileage coast to the finish. If that is indeed the case, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could well find himself in the same situation he has been in each of the last two weeks, for better or worse.
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