Not since October of 2004 has Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the Sprint Cup points lead. After the fall Talladega race that year, he held the lead for only two days after being penalized 25 points for cursing during a post race interview. Nascar’s favorite driver has a 14 point lead after finishing in fourth place in Sunday afternoon’s Crown Royal 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His points lead was helped along by a lap 132 wreck by Joey Logano that took out previous points leader Matt Kenseth. Kenseth finished in 35th place dropping him to second in the standings.
Dale Jr. has put on a clinic in 2012 about how to drive for a championship. In 20 races this season, along with his win at Michigan, he has nine top five finishes and 15 top ten’s. His only finish all year not in the top 20 was a 23rd place finish at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma back on June 24th.
If you read one of my earlier blogs where I indicated Dale Jr usually qualified well, but had trouble keeping up with the track changes, you’ll find that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Dale has improved this stat having an average start of 14.6, and an average finish of 8.1. This indicates he is now improving his car during the race. This I believe, is a product of his crew chief Steve Letarte. Steve came over from the #24 car last season, and has been just what Earnhardt has needed.
Although the #88 had a good run Sunday, no one was going to keep up with the #48 car that was a rocket ship masquerading as a stock car. Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had their car hooked up, and with one of the best drivers in the business, no one else was going to kiss the bricks on this day.
Jimmie Johnson is currently in fourth place in the points, but with three wins, he is the only driver who has mathematically clinched a spot in this years Race For The Chase.
Carl Edwards continues to struggle in this 2012 season. Even a new crew chief couldn’t end the bad luck. After qualifying second, and contending for the lead on the first lap, his car continued to lose power and was forced into an early pit stop which put him four laps down, and out of contention on the afternoon. The 29th place finish and dropped him to 12th in the standings, 61 points behind 10th place Clint Bowyer. The 2011 Championship runner up is in trouble if he can’t get a win under his belt before the chase begins.
There is very little drama left before the chase begins. Although Kasey Kahne trails Edwards by 11 points, he retains the 12th spot by virtue of having two wins. Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon are pretty much out of this years chase barring a miracle. Gordon climbed two spots on Sunday, but still needs some wins to get ahead of Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. Kyle is vulnerable with the one win, but like Gordon, he seems to be finishing races. The contenders like Paul Menard and Ryan Newman need some help from the wild card drivers.
Pocono is up next week, and Joey Logano has gotten himself so far back in the points, I don’t think another win at the Tricky Triangle will help him. I think you can turn out the lights on the #20 for this season, and you will probably see another driver in that ride next year. The only possibility that Joey stays in the car next year is if the sponsor get’s shifted to Dollar General, and Home Depot moves to another car. I personally think you can figure out where Matt Kenseth will land next year by watching where Home Depot lands.
After watching the race from the Watering Hole yesterday, interest in what’s happening in football training camps is dominating the conversation, not the race. Nascar still needs to do something to further generate some excitement. A lot of the guys are so bored with the racing, they can’t wait for College and NFL kickoffs to begin. Maybe a return to Pocono and Michigan will help, as they are pretty good races. If Dale Jr. can be competitive during the chase, that will keep fan interest, but if Jimmie runs away with it again, you just as well turn the channel.
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