By admin | August 24, 2008
By Richard Allen
Over the last three races Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports team have almost seemed as if they are looking for ways to dig themselves into a hole.
In Watkins Glen a questionable decision by crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. to leave his driver on the track well after other competitors had made their final pit stops backfired when a caution flag flew and mired Junior well back in the pack. The result was a 22nd place finish when a Top 5 seemed almost a certainty.
The next week in Michigan a decision once again not to pit with the competition led to disaster. After a late race caution, most of the lead lap cars hit pit road. The #88 team chose to stay out in order to gain track position. When the green flag waved, the cars on new tires were much faster than the HMS Chevrolet and Junior was forced up into the wall. The resulting damage caused a 23rd place finish.
Junior himself did his part to contribute to the team’s recent run of misery in Bristol. On the very start of the race NASCAR black flagged the popular driver for jumping the start, which he clearly did. The drive-through penalty he incurred caused him to lose a lap.
And to make matters worse, the long stretches of green flag racing allowed the lead cars to lap other machines and thus kept Junior from being able to recover his lap by means of the “lucky dog”. He eventually lost another lap on the track and finished 18th.
After Pocono, Earnhardt was in second place in the overall standings 176 points behind leader Kyle Busch. Now, only three races later, Junior has dropped to 3rd in the standings 416 points back of Busch.
Junior was working on a very solid season as of the Pocono race. However, the type of mistakes made by this team of late are not championship caliber. While they are assured of a place in the Chase for the Championship it will make little difference if they piece three, or even two, such races together during the 10 race playoff.
Team #88 has to get back on its game if they want to compete for anymore wins and a championship title, especially considering the runs Busch and Carl Edwards are having.
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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