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Junior’s bid to end winless streak proves to be the pits

By admin | June 11, 2012

By Richard Allen


When Sprint Cup teams arrive at the Michigan International Speedway this weekend it will mark the four year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s last win in NASCAR’s top division. That winless streak looked as if it might come to an end this past Sunday in Pocono but late race fuel strategy sunk any chance the popular driver might have had at victory.

Junior’s last win(June 15, 2008 in Michigan) was achieved as a result of a fuel mileage gamble that paid off in his favor. Oddly enough, two of his best chances to end the streak(2011 Coca-Cola 600 and 2012 Pocono 400) were lost because of fuel mileage letdowns.

On Sunday, Junior clearly had a car capable of winning. He ran near the front all day and led a total of 36 of the 160 laps making up the event on the 2.5 mile track. However, with fuel a major question mark as the race drew toward its close, crew chief Steve Letarte called on his driver to surrender 3rd place and head to pit road for a quick topping off of the tank. Trouble was, only a few other cars made a similar move which then buried Junior back in the 16th position for the ensuing restart.

Noteworthy of the call for the #88 car to pit is that drivers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who also use Hendrick Motorsports engines, came in as well.

Additional caution laps ultimately allowed those who gambled to conserve enough gas to make the full distance. Eventually, Earnhardt fought his way through traffic to finish in the 8th position, which moved him up to the 2nd spot in the Sprint Cup standings.

After the race, the obviously disappointed driver offered a somewhat bizarre television interview with TNT pit reporter Ralph Sheehen(It was later said that a fan not seen on camera was the cause of a distraction). After a long pause followed by a request to start over, Junior defended his crew’s decision to pit under that late caution flag. “We just didn’t want to run out of gas,” he explained. “I didn’t know those caution flags were going to be so long and they were long enough to help them guys make it on fuel. We’re not able to take them kind of chances just yet.”

Perhaps this will be the Sunday in Michigan will bring the victory that the so called ‘Junior Nation’ has now waited four years to see.

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8 Responses to “Junior’s bid to end winless streak proves to be the pits”

  1. Offkilter Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Oh so close.

  2. Tony Geinzer Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    If Junior doesn’t win Sunday, Father’s Day, 2012, Hendrick won’t live down the priciest Free Agent Production in Racing History and I bet you Junior will be on his own for any level of racing. That is true, and he would race his own deal for $$$ until people wear thin of him.

  3. Keith Murray Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    You can tell in his post-race interview that it is starting to get to him. I believe he’ll get the win soon. That team is running so well right now.

  4. Tyler West Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 7:39 am

    If Hendrick really wants Earnhardt to win he should have paired him with Knause. Knause is their ultimate weapon. He’s worth more than any of their drivers.

  5. Zach Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 8:13 am

    @Tony G; Why in the hell would Hendrick get rid of a driver the is currently running 2nd in the standings, has the most top 10’s in the series, has raced every lap run this year, and is one of the most improved drivers over the last 2 years. Oh and he is the Most Popular Driver of the sport 9 years running, and brings in bags of money to the organization just through merchandise sales and sponsorships. Jr hasn’t cost Rick a single penny. So you can throw your “priciest” Free Agent out the window because he was more like the most “valuable” Free Agent in terms of monetary value.

  6. jerseygirl Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 8:30 am

    tyler, you have to consider the personalities of the crew chief and the driver in matching them up. I don’t know that Jr and Knaus would be a good match.

    Also, why would Hendrick break up a winning combination in Knaus/Johnson? That wouldn’t be good business either. A case in point is when Evernham got antsy and wanted to do something else.

    Let’s face it, Evernham CHOSE to leave HMS for what he thought was a better opportunity and that broke up the 24 combo that was one of the best ever in the sport.

    Gordon has continued to have success with other crew chiefs, even if he hasn’t been as prolific a winner as with Evernham in charge. As a 24 fan, I wonder what could have been if Evernham had stayed, but we’ll never know.

    Yes, Knaus is obviously the top of the crew chiefs these days, but people aren’t interchangeable parts, one size doesn’t fit all.

  7. Russ Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Why would Hendrick get rid of Junior? Really doesnt matter if he ever wins another race. The money he brings into that organization dwarfs the others.
    As for Junior where would he go that can be better than HMS. Say what you will they are the best organization in Nascar.

  8. Overra88ted Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Think of the amout of sponsorship money that has been pi$$ed away on a driver who has 1 Na$crap assisted win in the last six (6) years. What a wa$te of money.