By admin | June 18, 2008
By Richard Allen
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won a race driving for Hendrick Motorsports…finally.
Earnhardt’s move to the powerful NASCAR team was one of the most publicized and talked about events in all of sports last year. Racing’s most popular driver teaming up with the sport’s most potent team made for unlimited potential. Marketing opportunities abounded. And almost certainly, according to many fans, competitors and media types, the wins would come in abundance.
Well, Junior took the checkered flag in the LifeLock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway this past Sunday. However, it was not exactly a dominating performance. As a matter of fact, the win came as a result of a fuel mileage gamble when Junior managed to coast his sputtering car across the finish line on fumes. This is not the type of win that was envisioned when he accepted this ride.
Granted, a win is a win no matter how it is achieved. There are no asterisks or any other notation to somehow lessen the magnitude of the victory. As hungry as Junior and his fans were for a win after 76 consecutive races without a trip to victory lane, it is doubtful anyone in “Junior Nation” cared how it came about.
But, with all of that said, the question is when will Junior win again? And, are there to be some of those dominating performances everyone expected?
One thing that needs to be taken into consideration is this has not been a typical Hendrick Motorsports season. Junior’s win was only the second for HMS this year. And to his credit, Junior has been the organization’s most steady driver thus far. He sits third in the overall standings, just 84 points behind leader Kyle Busch.
Now, it is up to Junior and his team to prove this win was not some sort of fluke, as some might label it. It is time for him to go out and win convincingly rather than coast in ahead of the pack under caution.
And more, it is also up to Hendrick Motorsports to regain their prominence. Last year at this time HMS had ten wins while this year they have two. Four time series champion Jeff Gordon has not earned a single checkered flag thus far and Casey Mears has but two Top 10 finishes. Now, only Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson have managed wins for the Chevrolet powerhouse.
It may very well be that HMS is on the verge of a breakout and the wins may start to pile up, but they have not shown that potential so far in 2008.
So, perhaps the question is not really when will Junior win again but rather will he become a dominate force on the track as well as at the souvenir trailer? One win, especially one taken on a fuel mileage gamble, is not enough to answer that question. It may be that now his team will get on a roll, or it may be that the LifeLock 400 will be the high water mark of his season. Time will tell.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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