By admin | February 13, 2009
By Richard Allen
Things could not have been better for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at this time last year. He had won the Bud Shootout in his first ever competitive run for Hendrick Motorsports. Then, he had gone out and won his Gatorade Duel qualifying race in his second outing. Starting out two for two had elevated the hopes of the legions within the â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ for the upcoming Daytona 500.
2009 has turned out to be a very different story for Junior. In this yearâ€™s version of the Bud Shootout the driver of #88 ran up front for a while. Eventually, he fell back in the pack and was turned into the wall on lap 64, doing significant damage to his Chevrolet. He finished 18th.
In the 2009 Gatorade Duel race on Thursday Junior again experienced a worse than 2008 run. Tire troubles forced an unscheduled pit stop which put him one lap down. However, cautions fell in just the right way to allow car #88 to get back on the lead lap and Junior was able to rebound to a 7th place finish. Still, that was not a win as was the case last season.
Donâ€™t get discouraged Junior fans. While your driver had a nice run in the 2008 Daytona 500 where he stayed near the front and finished 9th, it was not a win and may not have quite lived up to the high hopes created by his early week results.
This year, Junior has been flying under the radar screen, or at least as far under as the sportâ€™s most popular driver can fly. No wins coming into the 500 has kept the expectations a bit lower this year. Maybe the opposites will keep up and Junior will find himself at or near the front when the checkered flag falls Sunday evening.
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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