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.
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