Two weeks ago, a pair of NASCAR’s most popular drivers made big changes. For Kasey Kahne, the change was under the hood. For Dale Earnhardt Jr., it was atop the pit box.
So far, Kahne has shown signs of life. Earnhardt has not.
Kasey Kahne was the lucky driver at Richard Petty Motorsports to inherit the new Dodge R6 engine. At Dover, he proved to be a top 10 car, and appeared capable of a top 5 finish, winding up 6th at a track that he has never liked.
At Pocono, the track at which Kahne earned his most recent Cup win a year ago, he struggled early, but appeared to be the car to beat at the end of the race before he had to pit for fuel inside 15 laps to go. Still, he was poised for another top 10 before a spin on the final lap relegated him to 15th.
But while Kahne has run well and has had decent results, Earnhardt’s showed more of his same ol’ self.
With his new crew chief, Lance McGrew, Earnhardt did run in the top 5 at Dover for awhile… after a slew of cars went a lap down due to an inconvenient caution flag during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. He still struggled down the stretch of that race, and ultimately fell outside the top 10, finishing 12th.
Then came Pocono.
Another race. Another pit road miscue. And another race of mediocrity for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Earnhardt didn’t even crack the top 10, reaching as high as 12th, and ran back in the 20s virtually all day. He even managed to take out his frustration on one David Stremme, who was the only car to suffer any crash damage during the 200-lap race.
Earnhardt finished 27th.
Even still, McGrew remains optimistic. “We’re trying to build Rome here, and it won’t happen over night,” said McGrew before the race.
And he’s right. It won’t happen over night. But judging by what I have seen after two weeks, Kahne appears to be making gains, while Earnhardt still appears to be struggling.
Sure, that may all change after Michigan, where Earnhardt won last year. And one can’t help but wonder when Kahne may once again fade into oblivion.
But after two weeks, Kahne and Earnhardt have been showing very different results.