By admin | April 22, 2009
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has had an unusual season so far in 2009. While each of his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates has found victory lane in the year’s first eight races, Junior has managed only two Top 10 finishes.
Instead of wins and top finishes Junior’s season has been marked by embarrassing pit road mistakes and cars that do not seem as fast as those of his teammates and most other competitors from the sport’s top teams.
Currently, two of Earnhardt’s HMS mates, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, are at the top of the Sprint Cup standings. And, Mark Martin, who won the most recent race in Phoenix, has moved all the way up to 13th in the standings despite getting off to a disastrous start.
This week, however, Junior may well have his best opportunity to go to victory lane. The Talladega Super Speedway, site of this week’s Aaron’s 499, has been one of the third generation driver’s best tracks.
Junior has scored five victories on the monster speedway, more than he has won on any other track. Further, he has taken seven of his 18 total Sprint Cup checkered flags on NASCAR’s two restrictor plate facilities, Talladega and the Daytona International Speedway.
However, before labeling Earnhardt as a sure bet for this race take into consideration some key factors. First, despite his excellent record there, he has not won at Talladega since the fall race of 2004. As a matter of fact, he claimed all five of his victories on the track within a short span of seven races between 2001 and 2004.
A second factor that must be considered in evaluating Junior’s chances is that in eight starts on the Alabama tri-oval since 2005 he has recorded only two Top 10 results. And more, he won all of his races there while driving for his previous team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He did score a 10th place there in 2008 for HMS.
Before Junior can win at Talladega or any other track he and his team are going to have to eliminate the foolish mistakes that have marred their season so far. Errors on pit road have become the rule rather than the exception for this crew and driver. Pitting outside the pit box, missing the pit stall all together and not tightening each lug nut are among the mistakes that have occurred far too often. No team can win when it continually puts itself in such situations.
Still, even with the problems incurred so far and the fact that he has failed to produce a win on this track in over four years, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has to be considered among the favorites any time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Talladega. This week may indeed provide the sport’s most popular driver with a chance at redemption for a season that to this point has to be labeled a disappointment.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*For a chuckle, click on the link below to check out my latest animated short film, “Racing Re-Cap: Phoenix”.
In this episode serious racing reporter Mark Mustang is surprised to find out that his co-host, Daisy Dreamboat, made the trip to Phoenix but he is disappointed when he finds out why.
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