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Friday, September 5, 2008

Dale Jr. needs to get his mojo back at Richmond, before Chase starts

Paging Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Please report to the Richmond garage with the championship form you were showing a few months ago.

After starting the season strong with consistently good finishes that culminated with his fuel mileage win at Michigan in June, Jr.’s season has been the definition of mediocre -- a word not often associated with Hendrick Motorsports and one that does not indicate that a title is on the horizon.

His finishes from Sears Point through California are as follows: 12th, 24th, 8th, 16th, 12th, 12th, 22nd, 23rd, 18th, 11th. That’s only one top-10 finish. Some people are blaming crew chief Tony Eury Jr. for the struggles, but it’s much more than that. In addition to a couple bad calls from Eury, there have been plenty of issues with the car, too.

Because Jr. shot out of the gate so strong in the first half of the season, he remains in fourth place in the points. But anyone who’s watched a race in the past two months probably noticed that 90 percent of the time Jr.’s name was mentioned, he was complaining about the car.

With one race to go before the Chase, it’s important for the #88 team and Jr. to get back on track this week. He’s going to be at least 70 points behind Kyle Busch at the start of the Chase, and a bunch of top-12s isn’t going to cut in when you’re trying to catch up in the points to a guy as hot as Busch is right now.

In his career, Jr. has 3 wins, 7 top-5s and 9 top-10s at Richmond. If his team can snap out of the funk it’s been in and get him to Victory Lane, or at least the top 5, it would send a message to the rest of the garage that Little E is not dead yet.

The time for Jr. to make a move is now. He can’t wait until the Chase is half over to catch fire. If he wants to compete for the championship, he has to make a statement this weekend.

Doubleheader Sunday
Weather worries related to Hurricane Hanna have made this a very abbreviated weekend at Richmond. After minimal practice time, the track was shut down until Sunday, when the Cup guys will go at 1 p.m. and the Nationwide contenders battle at 6:30 p.m.

The big loser this weekend is Joey Logano, who was scheduled to make his Cup debut in the sharp-looking #02 Home Depot car, but didn’t get a chance to qualify (he was top-10 in practice). I wouldn’t be surprised if Gibbs tried to swing a deal with the #96, a Gibbs satellite team, to get him into that seat for the race. Ken Schrader has done plenty of racing in his career, and Joey’s itching to go. I bet something can be worked out to make that happen, but even if it doesn’t Logano is scheduled to drive the #96 next week at New Hampshire. So we’ll see him soon enough, either way.

Sparks could fly early
With the field set by points, all the drivers battling to get in the Chase will be all together when the race starts, and this is an exciting short track race we’re talking about. The possibility is there that major fireworks could fly early between some of these guys and Chase positions could be shuffled or decided early in the race. Get the popcorn ready, and wait and see.

Robby being sued
Gillette Evernham Motorsports is suing Robby Gordon, saying he violated terms of an agreement that would have sold his team to GEM at the end of the season, for $23.5 million. They say he agreed to a deal in January that prohibited him from talking to other teams about mergers, and has not honored the deal. They’re also upset he made complaints about the engines he was getting from GEM last month at Watkins Glen.

This is very interesting, and a reminder of the often self-destructive tendencies of Robby Gordon. His team is on shaky ground, and this deal would have given him a home for several years without the responsibilities and concerns of ownership. But being Robby, he may have spoiled the deal. When he was at Richard Childress Racing, he often acted up, too.

I'm usually a Robby defender, but it’s pretty much a bad move for him if he really did foul up this deal. I think he likes to be in charge, and realized as the season went on that he didn’t want to work for GEM. If the deal falls through (Robby insists it wasn‘t broken and he wants to go ahead with the deal), it’s Robby’s own fault. But Robby’s like a cat with nine lives. Just when you think he’s dead in Cup, he shows up again. He’ll figure something out.

Gibbs drivers off probation
NASCAR gave a break to Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano, removing them from probation that was assigned in the wake of “magnet-gate“ at MIS. While I know that the drivers didn’t take part in the cheating, I don’t agree with taking away the punishment. It was extreme, but it had to be to give teams another incentive not to cheat. JGR did not deserve anything but the full hammer of the law on this one, and revoking any of the punishments is a mistake.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most likely now that he's locked in the Chase you might see a more aggressive Junior on the track. I don't reckon we will know how much it messes with these guys ego and head by missing out on this playoff format, last year was a hard lesson to learn for both he and Eury Jr.. The networks treat the non Chase drivers like they are racing at another track in another state. I also think this COT car must be a wretched beast to dial in and keep dialed in during the course of a race which leads me to think it's a hit and miss affair. Most of the old notes on setups were rendered useless as well which most likely cost the teams hundreds of thousands of dollars in practice time and engineering wasted. If the NFL season in 2007 taught anyone anything it showed no matter how the season went the team that got hot at the right time could end up winning the whole thing the 2008 Nascar season could show the same thing.

September 6, 2008 at 3:31 PM 

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