Woody: Predictions are out – Where’s Junior?
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
I was flipping though a magazine the other day and came across a 2010 Sprint Cup pre-season driver ranking.
I looked for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I finally found him, buried somewhere down around 20th.
Meanwhile his Hendrick teammates, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin all were ranked in the top 10, with Johnson picked No. 1.
Before Dale Jr. fans make like lemmings and head for the cliff, let me say that pre-season media predictions usually aren’t worth the cocktail napkins they’re written on.
I speak as someone who for many years helped compile such predictions both in racing and in college football and basketball.
It’s based almost entirely on the previous season’s performances. Teams that had good seasons last year generally come out of the box with high pre-season ranking the following year.
Sometimes off-season developments can alter predictions, but in the case of the afore-mentioned drivers there’s been little or no shake-up. So the pickers figured there’s no reason to expect drastically-different results.
That’s good news for fans of Jimmie, Jeff and Mark – all are expected to be back in the championship hunt.
It’s not so good for Junior.
The pre-season polls don’t show any confidence in his ability to bounce back from last year’s nightmare.
I disagree. I believe Earnhardt can drive a race car. I believe he can win races. I believe he can contend for the championship.
I remember when his late father went through a similar slump and everybody wrote him off. They said he was too old, too rich, too this, too that. Suddenly Earnhardt thundered back, winning and dominating and intimidating, leaving the doubters eating his dust.
I think Junior is made of the same stern stuff.
The early portion of the season is critical for him. He and his team desperately need a good start to boost confidence and rejuvenate morale.
I’m not saying Junior has to win Daytona in order to save his season. But he can’t afford to wobble through the first half-dozen races, bury himself in the standings, and hope to dig his way out.
But with a good start all things are possible.
A strong finish at Daytona followed by a few more good early-season efforts could put Junior over the hump.
If he truly is getting the same quality equipment and support as his top-ranked teammates – as boss Rick Hendrick has promised – there’s absolutely no reason why Dale Jr. shouldn’t be in the championship hunt.
Forget the ratings; this could be Junior’s year.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments