By admin | August 10, 2008
By Richard Allen
When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed Kyle Busch to take the lead on lap 2 of the Centurion Boats at The Glen the crowd let out an enormous roar. Junior went on to lead a number of laps from that point.
As a matter of fact, Junior may well have had the best car in the field on Sunday. However, pit strategy doomed any chance he had to win.
As is often the case on road courses, teams attempted to make their final pit stop as early as possible. The mentality of planning for a road course race is essentially backwards from the mentality of planning any other race on the NASCAR circuit. Because laps under green flag take well over a minute, it is best to pit under green in order to hold track position.
Pitting under yellow after everyone else has pitted under green will bury a driver deep in the field. That is exactly what happened to Junior.
Beginning with 37 laps to go crew chiefs started calling their drivers in to make their final stops. Well after virtually every other team had been to pit road for the final time, the #88 car remained on the track.
Staying out too long had cost Junior valuable track position during the first round of stops as well. Because of staying out longer than everyone else, Junior fell from first to sixth after those stops due to the fact that others had been out on new tires clicking off fast lap times.
Lap after lap television commentators questioned the decision of the Hendrick Motorsports crew not to bring their driver in after they had reached the point of being able to make it to the finish on fuel and tires. Finally, crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. got caught with his car still on the track as the yellow flag waved.
By the time he left the pits Earnhardt found himself mired deep in the pack. He was never able to recover and went on to finish 22nd.
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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