It has finally happened; Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gotten the monkey off his back. He has won his first race in four years at the same track where he got his last NASCAR win. Winning the race on Father’s Day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been very good this season, perhaps the best season of his career. He has been poised to win at every track this year. It is great for NASCAR to have him win and great for his fans too.
The race weekend started good for Dale Jr. but then got interesting. He started the week with a special #88 Batman-themed Chevy for the movie “The Dark Knight Rises”, a good looking black car. In practice he had the fourth quickest car at 200.206 MPH; He backed that up in the second practice posting the fifth fastest time. He then went out and qualified a disappointing 17th. Dale Jr. was already not happy with his effort in qualifying, and then NASCAR changed the right side tires to a totally different tire. NASCAR scheduled an extra practice with the new tires. Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Director of Race Tires said “We decided this move was best to provide quality racing here on Sunday.” After the special practice Dale Earnhardt Jr. simply said “Like they’re six years old. … My car isn’t as good as I want it to be, but I can’t practice anymore.” Looks like Goodyear made a great decision as the tire issues were limited.
Early in the race Dale Jr. dropped like a rock but pitted early with his teammate Jimmie Johnson to fix his car. After that it was all about pit strategy and more importantly driving right up to the front. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps—95, almost ½ the race on his way to a dominating victory over Tony Stewart. Dale Jr. said after the race “But we needed some adjustments, and then in that moment, it’s really kind of tough to give Steve or I guess I worry whether he knows exactly where I’m at or what I need with the car, how much I need. But I guess he knows me well enough, because he made the right calls, and the thing took off flying. And then, he made some pit strategy choices that put us toward the front to where the car could respond, and if we had a fast car it was going to happen, and it did.“
“I know you guys have been waiting on that one,” Earnhardt radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. “I know I have.” Dale Jr. ended a 143 race losing streak and is positioned to be the driver to beat for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It is his 19th Sprint Cup win.
Dale Jr. is now four points from Matt Kenseth in the standings. Matt probably said it the best “This year you could see it going to be a matter of time. They’ve really been the guys — that 88 has had a ton of speed. They haven’t always gotten the finishes (because of) circumstances, but they’ve been battling up there in the top five each and every week. They’ve finished every lap. I’m really happy for him to get that win. The championship part, I think they’re definitely a contender. They’ve been right up there in the mix each and every race, no matter what size or shape the racetrack. I think they’re definitely, at this point in the season, one of the favorites.”
The NASCAR season is shaping up. Dale Jr. has got his win and is near the top of the standings. There is a big race for wins for the drivers outside the top ten so they can get one of the two wild card spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. These races can only get better from here to Richmond International Raceway.
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