Pocono Setback May Do More Good For Earnhardt Jr. Than Bad
August 9, 2012
The NASCAR world has been a buzz for the past couple of weeks, as NASCAR’s favorite son – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – has found himself atop the Sprint Cup Series point standings for the first time since 2004. It has had people racing to debate whether or not Earnhardt, who has just one victory since June of 2008, is a serious threat to win the championship.
By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
Heading into Pocono – the 21st race of the season – he had completed every single lap, and he had finished outside the top-17 just once, and that came after a last lap spin at Sonoma. He had an average finish of 8.0, and as many top-five finishes (nine) as he had in his past three seasons combined. However to me he wasn’t quite a full-fledged championship contender just yet.
The thing that finally tipped the scales for me occurred this week in Pocono, where he recorded his worst finish of the season – 32nd.
The team to this point in the year had yet to deal with adversity of any kind, but as soon as Earnhardt’s transmission failed on lap 50 his team sprung into action. Earnhardt promptly parked his machine in his garage stall, got out and jacked the car up by himself, while his team began working on the No. 88 Chevrolet.
“We had a good run going. This Chevrolet was pretty fast…,” Earnhardt said while his team thrashed, “…But it was one of those things. I’m sorry for all the guys in the shop.”
Just 19 laps later the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew car roared back onto the racetrack, and their efforts couldn’t have been rewarded any sooner. Just before the storms hit at Pocono Raceway – ending the race on lap 98 – championship contenders Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and others were swept up in a restart pileup. This sent these drivers down the scoring pylon, and somehow someway at the end of the day Earnhardt and his team minimized their damage.
His point lead went from 14 to 5, but what he and his team gained Sunday was much more valuable than nine points (before the Chase reseeding). This is truly what championships are made of, and the No. 88 team has finally shown that they can battle back from adversity. They are officially a championship contender in my eyes, and they should be in everyone else’s eyes as well.