June 2, 2012
By Donalde z Smith
Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) could not win a race during the first eleven races of the 2012 season.
However, HMS has now assembled three consecutive victories. (Jimmie Johnson won at both Darlington and the Sprint All-Star Race; Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600).
Dale Earnhardt Jr., unfortunately is still riding his winless streak. His last points’ win was on June 15, 2008. Do not get confused, Dale Jr. is not having a bad year; he just has not been able to drive himself back into victory lane.
The No. 88 National Guard - An American Salute/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet has no wins or poles in the first twelve of the thirty-six race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. However, Dale Jr. sits fourth in the point standings and is thereby a solid Chase Contender. He is trailing leader Greg Biffle by only 18 points.
The Coca-Cola 600, a 600-mile, 400-lap marathon, is as much about speed as endurance. This year’s race was the fastest in event's history; just three 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 17 seconds. Earnhardt ran in the top-ten for much of the final half of the race, and was as high as second.
He was able to remain in the top five until a piece of trash got on the grille of his racecar. The debris caused his engine to run hot and forced him to pit with about 55 laps remaining in the event. Then when he pitted, the team had a lug nut issue and Earnhardt lost even more time.
“We had real good speed when it counted in the end,” he said. “We showed it when we stayed out there with them boys and run in the top three there. We had good speed.” Earnhardt recapped.
“Staying out there gave us track position. We could have run second or third if we didn’t have debris on the grille and didn’t have that bad pit stop at the end,” Crew Chief Steve Letarte added. “Debris on the grille, there’s not much you can do about that.”
Earnhardt Jr. who went six consecutive weeks with a top-10 finish until a 17th place finish in the points race at Darlington, saw his winless streak extend to 142 races. His sixth place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 marks Earnhardt Jr.’s series-leading ninth top-10 finish of the season.
“(Our performance) just says we are consistent and we want to win a race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That’s all I can tell you. We want to win so bad we can’t stand it. And we’re getting kind of close. It feels good to be competitive. I don’t want to take our consistency for granted, but we would like to improve just a little bit more and we’ll get some wins.”
I am sure that Dale Jr. had started the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule with high hopes. He nearly won the race a year ago. However, he came up a few hundred yards and less than a gallon of Sunoco Green E15 racing fuel short of winning his NASCAR Sprint Cup points’ race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He coasted across the line out of gas and finished in seventh place.
Before this year's race Dale Earnhardt Jr. stated, “We feel good about getting started this weekend. It’ll be a little bit different; but variables like weather and how much rubber is on the race track and things like that. I’m just ready to go get in the car. I think we’re going to work on qualifying trim today. I don’t think we’ll do any race runs, so we won’t really know exactly what kind of race car we’ve got until Saturday. But, I’m just ready to get the weekend going so we can get closer to the race.”
However, it was not to be. Earnhardt was again competitive but unlucky circumstances kept him out of victory lane once again. Nevertheless, Dale Jr. has been consistently up front and appropriately aggressive. His desire to win again is strong.
Additionally, Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown prior to the Sprint All-Star Race. Unfortunately, that win doesn’t count as an official victory or toward Earnhardt’s winless streak. Earnhardt started the race off-pole and immediately took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. Dale Jr. then led all forty laps.
It would appear that Earnhardt is doing everything he needs to do to break that winless streak. He has been fast and consistently upfront. By placing himself in position to win weekend after weekend, that long winless streak should fall soon.
If you would like to learn more about Donalde z Smith, please check out her web site at NASCAR Race Mom.
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.