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Lack of focus, hard racing or intent on Junior’s part?

By admin | February 15, 2009

By Richard Allen


The wreck on lap 123 of the Daytona 500 was, for the most part, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s fault. That is not the question. The question is, why did it happen?

Was it due to a lack of focus on the part of the driver of car #88, or even his crew? There was definitely evidence that in the race on Sunday Junior and crew made mistakes that can be attributed to a lack of concentration.

After a caution on lap 54, virtually the entire field came down pit road. Everyone stopped in their pit stall except for Earnhardt, who drive right by his crew and subsequently had to make another circuit around the Daytona International Speedway and come back to pit road.

Junior claimed all the pit boards look alike and that is why he missed his stall. Well, if all the pit signs look alike, all the other drivers found theirs. Actually, based on scanner talk, it seemed as though his crew failed to count him down to his pit early enough and by the time they alerted him as to where they were it was too late. Perhaps the crew was not as focused as they should have been on that occasion.

On lap 118 the caution waved again and once again there was a lack of focus issue in the pits. The right front tire of Junior’s Chevrolet came to rest just over the pit box line. NASCAR deems that to be pitting outside the box, which carries a one lap penalty. Television replays clearly showed the NASCAR official signaling that the car was out of the box but the team went ahead with the stop.

Again, someone was not as focused as they should have been.

The lack of concentration, whether it be on Junior’s part or his crew’s part dug the team into a hole which led to the mess on lap 123. He would not have been in the position he was in had it not been for these unforced errors.

Another possible cause of the ‘Big One’ was that it was just hard racing. No matter whether the pit road snafus played any role or not, this possibility is in large part at the root of the problem. Rain was on the way. Junior was a lap down and knew he had to make a move soon if was to have any chance of winning the biggest race of the year.

At the same time, Brian Vickers was also a lap down with rain on the way and also knew he had to get going if was to have any chance of winning the biggest race of the year.

As it turned out, Junior had a run, Vickers moved to block and the wreck was on. Ultimately, Earnhardt hit Vickers in the back, twice. That is what caused the wreck. Again, he would not have been in position for that to happen had there not been the pit road blunders.

One other possibility is that there was intent on Junior’s part to cause the crash. Even though Vickers seemed to think so based on the interview that took place as he was leaving the infield care center, this would seem to be the least likely of scenarios.

“He just hooked us,” Vickers declared. “To wreck somebody in front of the whole field is really kinda dangerous.”

There, however, would simply be too great a risk to a driver’s own car in attempting such a move. There had been no other issues between the two drivers during the day. And more, Junior does not seem to be the type to just take another competitor out.

In the end, there was a big wreck in which the sport’s most popular driver was involved. He played a major role in causing that wreck. It could be argued that Vickers should not have blocked, but every driver blocks in that situation and every other driver knows the blocks are coming.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. almost certainly did not want the outcome to be what it was. Mistakes were made that led to his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Junior is to ever become a consistent winner and a championship contender these mistakes, which occur all too often, will have to be eliminated.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

7 Responses to “Lack of focus, hard racing or intent on Junior’s part?”

  1. joe Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Little E’s problems was caused by THE WOODY ALLEN JINX

  2. The Old Guy Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Jr.’s rookie like mistakes are what put him in the position to begin with.

    Brian Vickers, of whom I am not a fan, had every right to block and protect his position as the first car one lap down. Had Jr. been in that position, he would have had the same right.

    What makes this whole situation 90% Jr.’s fault is that he could he simply backed out of the throttle before attempting to blend back into the field.

    Now, this raises the question…. Did he want to back off and blend? Or, did he attempt to move Vickers out of the way?

    I drove race cars for a number of years right up in richards area and I can tell you from personal experience that Jr. intended to move Vickers. Unfortunately for the rest of the field, Jr. moved Vickers up the track right in from of them.

    Jr.’s 90% at fault here.

  3. Topher_Jones Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I am a DIE HARD JR fan, now, with that being said… even I went “Uh oh.” The errors in the pits are no one’s fault but that of himself & possibly of his crew cheif or spotter not counting him down… as far as the tire over the line, it was rediculous being only an inch over, but, hey, rules are rules. If JR gets away w/ it, can you imagine the frucas that would ensue? As far as the wreck is concerned… Vickers said “I beat him down to the yellow line”, which, if were true, then JR would have hit him square in the back (the first time), but, what happened is that the #83 came across his nose and hit JR. Now, as far as JR re-entering the track, he absolutely could have / should have let off a bit more as to not hook the #83, but, maybe he thought he was clear… that said, the wreck was JR’s fault as far as spinning Vickers in front of the field, but, JR has NEVER been the dirty driver & intentionally wreck someone. Heck, even when Vickers attempted to bump draft Jimmie in the ‘06 Talladega chase race & wrecked both Jimmie & JR, it was obvious that was just a mistake where he misjudged it. But, since it was JR whom caused “the big one”, it will be under the scrutiny of a microscope for plenty of time to come. When all is said & done, JR shouldnt have been in that position if he/the team would have avoided pit errors all day long… IMO

  4. midasmicah Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Whether there was intent or not, Dale Jr. caused the big wreck. Obviously irritated by his own mistakes, he drove like an idiot. And anybody who was waiting for na$car to penalize their golden boy, forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. And last, but not least. The starts of the races keeps getting later and later. They know rain was coming. The start of the race should have been pushed up. But TV dictates the start of the race. Fox would rather show useless crap like that Digger segment. The late starts in an area noted for afternoon rain played into the equation. I’m on the west coast and the race didn’t get over till very late afternoon. I can imagine how people back east felt.

  5. Charles Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    My problem with the wreck was not Dale JR, drivers will make mistakes all the time!

    It was Nascar inability to make consistent penalties when this happens! In the other races some get 5 lap penalties and some dont!

    If they really trying to copy the NFL, they need to try copying the way they call penalties!

  6. AndrewFromTN Says:
    February 16th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I agree with Charles. Either Jr. should have been punished 5 laps Sunday or Leffler should have been let off the hook Saturday.

  7. gail Says:
    February 17th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    As I stated on another site, in 2001 all race fans found out that Dale E. Sr. was as human as the rest us. Now we need to come to that same realization that Dale E. Jr. is also just a human being that was having a bad day because he was sick. I am sure that any race fan can attest to the fact that you are unable to give 100% when you are not feeling good. The only difference is that we are not in the spotlight as is Dale Jr. Good grief give Dale Jr. a break as he was working as hard as he could while under the weather. He will come back and kick the butts of the other 42 competitors.