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Monday, March 26, 2012

Your 2012 leader at Hendrick Motorsports is: Dale Earnhardt Jr?; Jimmie Johnson's golden horseshoe returns

I remember it like it was yesterday; because it kind of was yesterday.

For the past several years, it’s been a familiar refrain with Dale Earnhardt Jr. … He might run good at some point during the race, but come race end and he’s going to be languishing mid-pack and come home in the teens or 20s. This happened more often than not through the years as Dale Jr. struggled to find a crew chief that worked with him as well as Tony Eury Sr. did back in the day.

Well, that appears not to be the case anymore. His partnership with Steve Letarte is paying off well this year, and he has risen to 3rd in the point standings after a strong 3rd place run at California. More often than not, so far this year you’ll find Dale Jr. up front, not in the middle of the pack.

As the saying goes, when you run up front that often, you’re bound to win eventually, so it’s a good bet Jr. will end his win streak this year. But his wishes no doubt go far beyond that. He doesn’t just want to get one win and go back into being a bystander in the title hunt. He wants to not only make the Chase, but contend in it.

And based on his early performance, everything is clicking and he might just be able to do that. Instead of sneaking into the Chase, he might roar into it. And if that happens, no one would be happier than NASCAR, which has long hoped for its golden boy to break out into a successful streak.

Jr. said Sunday after his California finish that he’s excited about his strong start, and gave credit to his team for the resurgence.

Yeah, I'm really happy. I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve and the team. Those guys did a great job today on pit road. We had some really good stops,” Jr. said. “Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive.”

Whether it’s the crew chief, the driver, or some combination of the two, once thing is for certain – Jr. Nation appears to have something legitimate to cheer for this season.

Jimmie Johnson both good AND lucky

It was a hell of a good week for Jimmie Johnson. First, his points penalty was rescinded, launching him up the standings.

Then, fate intervened in his favor as the red flag came out at California just as his car broke and started leaking oil. If the race had gone on, he likely would have dropped over 20 positions in the finishing order ... ironically a similar number to what his initial penalty from NASCAR was for the C-post infraction. Instead, due to the perfect timing of the red flag, he finished 10th.

That's what you call luck. And we all know Jimmie is a great driver. So combine those two things, and you have the makings of a resurgent year for Mr. Johnson, who is now in Chase territory and will likely stay there for the rest of the year.

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