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Talladega offers Junior chance at redemption

By admin | April 22, 2009

 By Richard Allen 

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.



Topics: Articles |

2 Responses to “Talladega offers Junior chance at redemption”

  1. yankeegranny Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 6:24 am

    I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole as long as Tony Jr is on his pitbox and I am a Jr fan. Rick Hendrick needs to take a page from the Roush and Childress playbooks and make changes when things are not working. That is unless Mr Hendrick really doesn’t think Tony Jr is the problem. I cannot imagine what would happen if Tony Jr is replaced and things got worse. You can’t drop ypur cash cow because of what he is bringing to the team; but it would be embarrassing to keep him. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. I dropped Jr from my fantasy teams two weeks ago and have no intention of putting him on in the forseeable future. It has been a good move because I won a Richard Petty ride last week,

  2. overa88ted Says:
    April 23rd, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    You nailed it Rich, restrictor plate races were dominated by the RAD progam of R=RCR, A=Andy Petre racing, D=DEI from 1999-2001. If not for Dale’s death, the RAD program probably would have continued on past 2001. With RCR losing one of the best plate-track drivers in Dale Sr., DEI emerged from the RAD program with the dominate retrictor plate program from 2001-2003. By 2003, astute fans could see the Hendrick program had nearly pulled even to the DEI cars, and in 2004 had caught and past the DEI progam. The Hendrick restrictor plate program dominated plate-track races from 2005 to until the COT cars were introduced, now these races have become a crap shoot as far as who will win. BOTH JR. and Michael Waltrip ENHANCED their reputations by winning restictor plate races at a time when DEI held their advantage. There were several races in the 2001-2003 period where they seemingly toyed with the rest of the field, with JR.’s average finish of 6.4 and 7 wins, Michael Waltrip’s average finish of 13th, and 4 wins. During 2005 to present, both JR. and Michael Waltrip drove for DEI, then moved on to other teams with less than dominating results. 2005 to present restrictor plate race results: JR. - 19.9 avg. finish, 0 wins, Michael Waltrip - 25.8 avg finish, 0 wins. Point being, without the DEI advantage they had 2001-2003, neither driver is exactly a “money driver” in plate races.