By admin | July 4, 2013
By Richard Allen
Once upon a time in NASCAR it was a certainty that when the Sprint Cup Series visited one of the giant restrictor plate tracks, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would be listed as a favorite for the win. Much like his late father, Junior just seemed to have a knack for getting his car to the front of the pack when it was time for the checkered flag to wave.
The Daytona International Speedway, which will host this Saturday’s Coke Zero 4oo, and the Talladega Super Speedway are the two facilities in which restrictor plates are necessary due to the high speeds that could be achieved without them.
However, Junior’s plate racing success dried up for a period of time as he transitioned from his old Dale Earnhardt, Inc. team to his new Hendrick Motorsports ride. Of the third generation driver’s 19 Sprint Cup wins, seven have come on the tracks that require horsepower robbing plates. All of those victories came from 2001 to 2004. He has not won at either Daytona or Talladega since then.
Among those plate wins was the emotional win in Daytona in July of 2001 just after the passing of his legendary father at that same track in February of that year. Also, Junior earned NASCAR’s most coveted prize when he won the Daytona 500 in 2004.
From 2005 to 2010, Junior only scored two top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Talladega. During that same time period, he fared much better at Daytona with six top-10s. But he did not post a win in that time period and placed outside the top-25 on four occasions.
But a look at recent results show that Junior might be about to experience a resurgence on the plate tracks. He has placed 2nd in three of the last four Daytona 500s. He also earned a pole for the 2011 ‘Great American Race’. A strong last lap run almost got the #88 Chevrolet to the top spot this past February when Earnhardt followed Jimmie Johnson to the line, and the same was true in 2011 when he came up just short behind Matt Kenseth.
While he hasn’t had the same quality finishes at Talladega in recent attempts, he has run at the front and led laps there only to have his day ruined by late race crashes or other issues. Of course, one of those late race crashes last fall in Talladega contributed to a concussion that sidelined the popular driver for two races near the end of the 2012 season.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has certainly experienced his share of ups and downs on restrictor plate tracks although it appears as if he may be about to regain some of the magic he had earlier in his career on these types of tracks. But based on the sum of his total career, there is nothing for certain. Of course, that’s true of any driver at Daytona and Talladega.
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