Woody: Another Junior-Free Chase
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Looks as though NASCAR’s playoffs will be missing its star driver again this year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 26th-place finish at Watkins Glen last Sunday probably doomed his Chase chances. It dropped him two spots in the standings, down to 16th, with just four races left to crack the 12-man championship field.
In order to make it, Earnhardt would have to do well, while also counting on all four drivers ahead of him – Mark Martin (holding the 12th and final Chase spot) Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray to falter over the next four races. It’s not just the points, it’s the positions.
One might stumble, possibly even two. But the chances of all four fading are remote.
And that’s assuming that Junior is able to pick up the pace. He may have trouble even fending off Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann and hard-charging Juan Paul Montoya to preserve his current position.
An Earnhardt-less Chase is exactly what NASCAR doesn’t need right now amid sagging attendance and anemic TV ratings. Just as the PGA is absorbing the effects of its toothless Tiger, NASCAR better get used to the notion that its brightest star won’t be in title contention.
Of course part of the charm of the Chase is that Junior will still be on the track, racing and contending for wins, during those final 10 races. But for his fans, the playoffs will lack that special tingle.
Maybe they’re getting used to it.
Junior didn’t make the Chase last season, and the year before he squeezed in but was never a serious contender.
Forget championships – right now Earnhardt would settle for a victory. He managed a grand total of one in the past three seasons and is winless through 22 starts this year.
As was the case last year when his three Hendrick teammates finished 1-2-3 in the standings, Junior’s struggles this season are magnified by the success of his teammates. They aren’t as dominate as they were last season, but all three are in the Top 12 and currently Chase-eligible. Jeff Gordon is second, Jimmie Johnson fifth and Mark Martin 12th.
As the slump continues, so does the puzzle:
Why can three Hendrick drivers do so well while a fourth – Junior – does so poorly?
If anyone has any ideas I’m sure Rick Hendrick will welcome them. So will Dale Jr.
Whatever ails Junior and/or his team, nobody’s been able to fix it.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments