By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
I know I sound like a broken record — scratched cd for those younger readers, or even a corrupted MP3 file for even younger readers – but Dale Earnhardt Jr. proved again at Richmond that he is indeed knocking on the door of victory lane. It has now been a grueling 138 races since Earnhardt last tasted the spoils of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but after nine races this season he already has four top-three finishes including a second-place effort this past weekend in Richmond.
Had it not been for a soft brake pedal Saturday night, Earnhardt may have tossed a 400-pound gorilla from his shoulders.
Is the timing right for Earnhardt to finally break through for the first time in nearly four years? Yes, but is there really a bad time for the sport’s most popular driver to reach victory lane? Not really, but it honestly seems like more of a question of when rather than if he will win this season, especially with the way he has ran this season.
We are a fourth of the way through the 2012 season, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has yet to finish outside the top-15 in any race, he has also led more laps (75) than he did throughout the entire 2011 campaign, he has already matched his amount of top-five finishes from 2011 (four), oh and he is just one of two drivers — the other being Matt Kenseth — to complete all 2,926 laps that have been completed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and he has been very vocal lately about his confidence in his own driving ability.
What’s more, his astonishing 7.3 average finish through the first nine races of the year is the best of any of his previous 12 Sprint Cup Series seasons. If he can keep that stat going all year long, he has a realistic chance at hoisting the Sprint Cup at season’s end — but he needs to win first.
There is no track that is more promising for Earnhardt during his long winless drought than Talladega. Earnhardt has captured the trophy at this racetrack five times including a run of four-straight victories at the 2.66-mile superspeedway from 2001 to 2003. He has an uncanny knack for drafting, and with pack racing back — at least until the closing laps — it seems to be a good bet that Earnhardt will be in the running for the win at the end of the Aaron’s 499.
“I feel like the style of racing we had in the Daytona 500 this year suits me better. I feel more confident in that style than I do the tandem. With the tandem, it is difficult to commit to someone all day long. The way we did it in the (2012 Daytona) 500 was nice, but the tandem is going to win the race, which is fine with me. I do like having more control of my destiny and making my own decisions for myself. I want to look out for No. 1 and my team all day long and try to do whatever I can to put myself in position to win the race. That is really what I feel like I have been doing all my life,” Earnhardt said last week.
What’s really odd is that despite his bad luck over the last four years, Earnhardt has always had some great luck at Talladega. Through 24 career starts at Talladega, Earnhardt’s day has only ended early twice due to a crash. Think about how many cars that have been crashed out at Talladega since his first start there back in 2000 — that is a very impressive stat.
Add it all up. The timing is right for Earnhardt to finally end all of his frustrations, and it’s time for him to reach victory lane again this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.