June 19, 2012
By Doug Demmons
So, how did you celebrate Junior Day on Monday -- the national holiday declared after You Know Who finally won again at Michigan?
Did you knock back a few Amps around the backyard grill, maybe rush out for a new “88” tattoo?
Suddenly once again it’s cool to be a citizen of Junior Nation. In a factory somewhere in China -- or wherever it is they make diecasts -- they are adding extra shifts to crank out Diet Mountain Dew jackets and hats and T-shirts and Christmas ornaments.
It is once again Morning in America.
OK, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just one race, right? And with Sonoma coming up this week -- where Dale Earnhardt Jr. has yet to crack the top 10 -- surely the post-Junior drunken giddiness will turn to hangover by next Monday.
Perhaps. But for this week it’s Junior Nation that gets to dish out the trash talk instead of taking it like they have been for four years. This week Junior fans can actually speculate about a championship without anyone suggesting they seek psychiatric care.
Even points leader Matt Kenseth -- just four points ahead of Earnhardt in the standings -- says Junior is one of the favorites to win the title.
And the numbers are there to back it up. Earnhardt has 12 top 10s in just 15 races this season, more than any other Cup driver. He’s the only driver to finish every race this season on the lead lap. He hasn’t been lower than fifth in the standings all year. And his average finish so far of 7.4 is the highest of his career.
The only person on the planet who isn’t jumping on the Junior bandwagon is grumpy ole Tony Stewart.
“It's not a national holiday, guys,” Stewart told reporters Sunday when asked how excited he was about Junior’s win. “This morning, they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we are all in a state of mourning now because he's broke that streak now, so I don't know what we are all supposed to think.”
Maybe that’s because Stewart didn’t have the best view of the race finish, what with the No. 88 looking smaller and smaller out Stewart’s windshield and the thundering roar from the grandstands drowning out even the engine noise.
But after some time to think about it, I’d bet even Smoke cracked open a Schlitz or two -- or three.
But Regan Smith was probably the driver most thankful for Junior’s victory. Smith narrowly avoided needing a police escort out of town when his tire went down with less than 10 laps to go.
Just imagine if that tire had shredded and a caution wiped out Junior’s nearly six-second lead and he got shuffled back on a green-white-checkered restart.
“Really glad my blown tire didn’t bring out a yellow, might have needed an armored car to get out of Michigan if it did,” Smith tweeted after the race.
Actually, there probably was never any danger of a caution coming out.
Let’s face it -- an entire quarterpanel could have been laying in the racing groove and NASCAR wouldn’t have thrown the yellow. Nothing short of the space station plummeting out of the sky into Turn 3 was stopping that race.
But none of that happened. This time he didn’t run out of gas or mess up on pit road. This time fate didn’t rise up to smack Junior down.
This time, as Junior said, “we just whooped them really good.”
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at ALABAMA MOTORSPORTS
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.