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Woody: Predictions are out – Where’s Junior?

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 6 2010
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not being treated kindly by the pollsters these days. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not being treated kindly by the pollsters these days. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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.

And looked.

And looked.

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 6 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • paul says:

    last 5 or 6 yrs he’s been junk in top notch cars. replace him with scott riggs.

  • Overra88ted says:

    JR. wasn’t considered because he hasn’t performed for the last 5 years. The Earnhardt will get JR. a pity pass for the all-star race and t-shirt sales, but his God given average at best talent isn’t enough for a cup championship.

  • DALESBABY88 says:

    That dosnt surprise me, Just because his last name is “EARNHARDT :-(” they think he should be winning every daggone race right up there on the pinnacle. i know he had a BAD year last year I dont care what kind of year junior has, I Have been devoted to him for well over 10+ years he snuggled his way into my heart 10 years ago and i have been devoted to him ever since He is a champion to me with or without that dang trophy he is my champion always #1 to me. his name could be John Smith and i would still feel the same god bless you Junior go get em but please be SAFE!!!