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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jr. gets a solid finish, but his battle has just begun

Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed a big boost this week after some tough runs in recent weeks. He got it, with a 2nd-place run at Talledega, his best track, finishing right behind his protégé and Nationwide series driver Brad Keselowski. He is now 15th in points, just 45 points out of the Chase.

Now comes the hard part … continuing to finish well enough to make the Chase. For whatever reason, Jr. hasn’t been able to consistently finish as well as his teammates this year. Some have blamed the crew chief, some have blamed the driver. Bottom line, he can’t afford many more screwups. He has good Hendrick equipment, and now he must run consistently in the top 10 between next week’s Richmond race and the fall Richmond race if he hopes to battle for the title.

It’s not a case of him having to win a whole bunch of races, though a win or two would certainly help his confidence. He just can’t afford the embarrassing early-season stumbles he’s had so far … from the countless pit-road screwups to scraping the wall … to return.

If they do, he won’t be in the Chase. It’s that simple.

Stellar day for rookies at Talladega
A look at the top-10 rundown at Talladega is a bit eye-opening.
Joey Logano, who had a nightmare week at Daytona, finished 9th for his first career Cup top-10 finish. Scott Speed, whose season has been largely a nightmare, finished 5th. Keselowski, who isn’t even an official Rookie of the Year contender because he isn’t running enough races, took the checkered flag 1st. Also, Marcos Ambrose, who almost just missed qualifying for ROTY battle because he ran a few too many races in 2008, finished in 4th.

This is likely the only time, other than another plate race, when you’ll see so many inexperienced Cup drivers in the top 10.

It certainly helps when the neverending “Big Ones” collect so many drivers who would normally be contenders. But you can’t deny the skill these young drivers are showing in their ability to dodge these big wrecks and race up front with the veterans.


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