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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Backed Into A Corner

With only 8 races left until the Chase cut off, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself backed into a corner once again. In the past 4 races he has watched his name slide from 3rd in the points to 8th, only 21 points inside the top 10, and his has gone from contending for wins, to not cracking the top 10.

Of course, being bitten by the bad luck bug has definitely not helped. Through the first 15 races Earnhardt had finished on the lead lap in all but two, however, in the last three races he has matched that same amount and wrecked to the finish in Daytona. A blown engine, caught up in a wreck, and a blown tire in three races. If luck is a lady, she’s been rather spiteful to the 88 lately.

Now I’m not saying that he was running well in those three races. He hates Infineon, hates tandem racing, and had never raced at Kentucky, and all three showed. Although he had a strong car at Daytona, he did not dominate there or even challenge for the top 10 at the other two.

Had his races not ended the same way, however, you would be looking at about 40 more points of a cushion on 11th place in the points. That would probably have put him in the “practically in” category, which is where I believe Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth are. By “practically in” I am referring to the top 10. If you look at the wild card, you would probably include Jeff Gordon, who has two wins, since all of the others behind him only have one. Either way, I am sure Earnhardt Jr. would like to have his place in the Chase solidified, and soon.

The prognosis of him being “in” sooner, rather than later, is not great. At the 8 remaining tracks, Junior has 6 wins, but all of those wins are at the last 4 before the Chase. The first 4, Loudon, Indianapolis, Pocono, and Watkins Glen, are challenges for him for sure. At both Indy and the Glen he has an average finish of 22nd, and at Loudon and Pocono he has been hot and cold. The little encouragement he has for the coming 4 races is that 3 of the 4 are similar tracks in that they have flatter corners. That is encouragement due to the fact that he finished 6th at the first Pocono race this year and 4th in his last visit to Loudon.

Earnhardt must come out of the corner swinging, though, as the only one of the 4 drivers immediately below him in points has a worse average finish at Loudon. That, even, is no consolation, since Clint Bowyers 16th place average there does not paint as complete a picture as his two wins.

I would speculate that Junior’s chances for a win at Bristol, Atlanta, or Richmond are high only if he does either great or poorly in the next 4 races. If he is still just inside the top 10, it may be too much of a temptation to be slightly less aggressive. However, if he is locked or almost locked into the Chase, or just outside the top 10, he will either be able to be aggressive or will have to be out of necessity.

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2 comments:

Dwindy1 said...

JD...

Does Dale have it in him to come out swinging? Here's hoping for all his legions of fans (you included) he figures out how to turn it on and then puts the pedal to the metal. Like you're saying... The races are dwindling down to a precious few. He's got to put aside his likes and dislikes and simply try to position himself for top finishes.

Question: Do you think HMS has fallen off concerning putting top equipment on the track race after race? It's beginning to look that way.

Thanks JD!

JD said...

Good question Dwindy! Their dominance has definitely tapered off! Just a few years ago HMS had some 16 or so wins in a year... However, with every new change, they seem to surge ahead. I guess they have so many people that they can just get ahead on R&D. So now with the new fuel injection, look for them to have a little advantage next year as CC's tinker with getting more hp out of the new setup.
And does Jr have the ability to come out swinging? Yeah... but will he?

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