Woody: Junior’s Hopes For The Title Fizzle
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s championship chances probably went down the drain with last Sunday’s 24th-place finish at Dover.
The lackluster run dropped Junior two spots in the standings, to 10th, and with only seven races to go that’s too deep a hole from which to climb. It would require a miracle for Earnhardt to get back in contention, and as the Junior Nation knows, miracles have been in woefully short supply in recent years.
Granted, under NASCAR’s new system Junior is only 34 points out of first place. But it’s not the points but the positions that matter.
If Junior was 34 points in second place behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards he’d have a shot.
But he’s not only behind Harvick and Edwards, he’s also behind Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.
Two or three might stumble down the stretch. Maybe even four or five. But not all nine. All nine drivers ahead of Junior aren’t going to fold during the next seven races.
And even if by some miracle (there’s that word again) all nine DID slip, Earnhardt still would have to pick up the pace to catch up. Running 24th won’t cut it, and there’s no
evidence that he and his team are capable of putting together seven straight powerful runs that would be required for them to make biggest comeback in NASCAR history.
That’s why – as unpopular as it may be to write off NASCAR’s most popular driver – I don’t see any realistic hope for Junior’s first Cup championship.
At least this season he showed some promise. Earnhardt hasn’t won a race but at times he has been in contention. And at least he made the playoffs, even if his Chase chances were short-lived.
But it continues to be puzzling why Junior, driving for the best operation in NASCAR, hasn’t been able to produce results similar to his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
This season Mark Martin was odd man out, failing to make the Chase while Junior got in, but that’s small consolation when Earnhardt’s performance is compared to teammates Johnson and Gordon.
Both have won, both made the Chase, and after three races both remain in title contention – Gordon just barely. That leaves Junior third-best in a four-driver operation.
It will be interesting to see how Kasey Kahne fares next season when he replaces Martin in the Hendrick fold. Will he be able to take advantage of the opportunity any better than Earnhardt has?
I don’t want to be too hard on Dale Jr. I was a long-time friend of his father’s and I’ve followed Jr. since he was a tyke. I’ve always been impressed by the way he has handled himself on and off the track. He’s great for the sport, win or lose, and I know how badly he wants to live up to expectations – his and his fans’.
But for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. Not in the past, and so far not this season.
Once again it appears that Earnhardt and the Junior Nation will have to wait till next year.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments