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Monday, October 5, 2009

Even when Dale Jr. is good, his day is bad

As the famous lyric goes, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

That’s the theme music for Dale Earnhardt’s 2009 season, which was captured in a nutshell with his performance Sunday in Kansas City.

At the beginning, it looked like he would finally break out of his funk, and possibly contend for a win, after leading about 40 laps early. He drew big applause Friday when he qualified second, and backed that up early Sunday with a solid start.

Enter the pit crew. During a stop, a lug nut issue led to the 88 car going down a lap. This isn’t the first time crew issues have bitten this team, and it’s very strange to see it happen so much at a Hendrick Motorsports team known for solid pit crew performance.

The day got worse when Jr., who had yet to get his lap back, got caught in the pits when a caution came out, dropping him 2 laps down. As if that wasn’t enough, Jr. (who was driving what he called a “top-10 car”) finally had to call it a day with about 30 laps to go when his engine expired.

The day was his season in a nutshell … lots of promise, no delivery. Rick Hendrick must be wondering what’s going on with that team. Everyone else who drives for him is doing great, winning races and contending for the title. Meanwhile, the 88 car has 0 wins, 2 top-5s and 5 top-10s in almost 30 races.

I don’t think even his biggest detractors predicted he would be sitting 22nd in points at this point in the season. To put it in perspective, he’s behind Kevin Harvick, who hasn’t done much of anything this year.

And as Sunday proved, even when there is a good car to work with and Jr. is running well, it usually unravels somehow.

I don’t think anyone has a magic cure for the 88 team, though I envision many behind-the-scenes changes in the off-season, but I do know one thing: Jr. is counting the days until this miserable season is over.

Tony in form
Who was that man in Victory Lane? A very rare sight: A clean-shaven Tony Stewart. I almost didn’t recognize him without his 8 o’clock shadow.

Seriously, though, Tony re-emerged as a contender this week with his win, and may end up battling his pseudo-teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin for the title, right down to the wire.

And if anyone caught the exchange between Tony and a reporter that aired after the race on NASCAR NOW, it was classic Tony in a great mood and making fun of the media. When he’s in a good mood like that, the rest of the garage better watch out.

Hard to gain ground
When the top 2 points leaders don’t have bad days, it’s hard to gain any ground. Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya. He has finished 3rd, 4th and 4th in the three Chase races so far. But his still sits third in points, 51 points out of the lead.

Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson haven’t had any bad races this Chase. Montoya and the other Chasers need to assume that is going to continue. If anyone else is going to beat the hot Hendrick drivers, they will have to win some races, and finish in the top 5 or top-10 the rest of the time. If they don’t, they can forget about a title.

The top 8 still have a shot. Beyond that it’s a pipe dream. Ryan Newman (164 points out), Carl Edwards (165 points out), Kasey Kahne (190 points out) and Brian Vickers (250 points out!!) have little to no chance of being the champ this year. Not only are they back in points, but of this group only Kahne has shown any indication he is fast enough to compete for a title. Unfortunately for him, his engine woes at Loudon have killed his chances.


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