By admin | July 30, 2009
By Richard Allen
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally seemed to have a good run going in the Brickyard 400. Trouble was, he failed to make it to the finish with that good run.
The #88 car experienced a blown engine just after a green flag pit stop. It was the only one of the Hendrick Motorsports powered Chevrolets to suffer such a fate. Later, Junior himself admitted the problem might have been his fault. And, it well could have been.
Considering none of the other HMS engines suffered mechanical troubles, the driver certainly has to be looked at as a possible cause. After all, when the engines are built by the same people with the same parts, he is one of the few variables different from everything else.
Granted, there are thousands of working parts inside a Sprint Cup engine. Any one of those parts could fail at any time. However, when one failure occurs with a particular organization’s engines that failure often dooms other similar engines. The so called ‘bad batch’ of parts usually do not rear their ugly heads in only one motor.
Of course, there are always those who claim things like, “Hendrick only cares about the other drivers and gives Junior the junk” which would be incredibly dumb on Hendrick’s part. Rick Hendrick did not get to where he is today by being dumb. And besides, this was a brand new car he was driving. It seems unlikely HMS would go to the trouble of building a brand new car only to stick a bomb of a motor in it.
Could it be that Junior once again lost concentration? Could there have been yet another problem getting into or out of the pits?
From what people with more mechanical knowledge than me who I have talked to told me, the engine was probably damaged initially as Junior entered the pits. Most likely, that damage would have occurred in downshifting from 4th gear to 3rd. The rev limiter would not have prevented the motor from surging to too high an RPM count in that situation. The motor eventually blew a bit later from the damage done on the entry to pit road.
With all that said, Junior was probably just trying too hard. There is nothing wrong with that. He had not been in a truly competitive situation since Talladega and was trying to gain a spot or two during the pit stop cycle, since in today’s NASCAR that is about the only place anyone can pass.
If that is what happened, I would actually consider it a good thing. There have been times this year when I thought Earnhardt was not trying hard enough. If I were a car owner I’d take a driver who makes mistakes while trying too hard over one who coasts around afraid of doing damage to the car or making other drivers mad.
But now, Junior has shown he can be competitive. He qualified well. He ran in the top-10 virtually all day until the blown engine. So, it can be done.
This week the Sprint Cup Series heads to Pocono, a race track with at least some similarities to Indy. It seems logical to think that a driver who can do well at one could do well at the other.
Junior needs to build on the bit of momentum he got going at ‘The Brickyard’ and carry it over to the remaining races of 2009 and on into 2010. This season’s championship hopes were shot a long time ago. It is just time to prove whether or not this driver can ever truly be a competitive force for this team.
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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