Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Saga That is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Alright, alright. Here we go...

I didn't see the wreck that was started when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers got together on the backstretch during the Daytona 500 last week while I was actually at the racetrack. I heard the commotion on my headset and saw the cars after they were towed back to the Sprint Cup Series garage. But not until yesterday afternoon did I actually have time to sit down and review the video of the accident in detail.

And guess what... Dale Earnhardt Jr. is totally responsible for what happened. It took out the dominant car (Kyle Busch) and wrecked several others that had legitimate shots at going to victory lane (i.e. Jamie McMurray.) Of course I'm not gonna say that without watching the tape first. I'm expected to be the Dale Jr. supporter that I am and not question his integrity on the racetrack or his ability as a Sprint Cup Series driver.

Now, let me answer a few questions that have been raised this week on Sirius NASCAR Radio and various other talk shows (i.e. The Locker Room Sports Show on KOOL 102.7)

First, did Junior wreck Vickers? Yes.
Did Vickers block Junior which caused the wreck? Yes.
Was Junior frustrated over dumb things he'd done on pit road ALL WEEKEND? Yes.
Did Junior want to get back on the lead lap? Yes.
Did Junior INTENTIONALLY wreck Vickers in an attempt to get back on the lead lap? I still say the word "intentional" when used to describe an event happening at 190 miles per hour is absolutely absurd.

Now, here's my thing about all of this. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to lead every lap and win every race. Junior Nation expects it and the media criticizes him when he doesn't. And at that point being a lap down, not in position for the lucky dog, and knowing rain was coming, he did what he could to try to live up to those expectations. At Daytona more than any other track, the fans expect him to win the race. He screwed up earlier in the day (on pit road twice) and then he screwed up on the racetrack.

That unrealistic expectation of winning every race needs to be dropped. He's not Dale Earnhardt Sr. He never will be. I've never expected him to be. He doesn't have the raw talent and ability that Dale Sr. had. People ask me why am I a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. My answer is I've been an Earnhardt fan all my life. But what people don't know is that I followed Junior through the Nationwide Series (formerly Busch Series) in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I bought the AC Delco hats and t-shirts and I celebrated when he won the championships in 98 and 99.

And following Dale Sr.'s death in 2001, I didn't necessarily pick another driver to pull for. I flip-flopped between Junior, and Kevin Harvick, and Bobby Labonte, and hell I even thought about switching to the dark side and pulling for Jeff Gordon. But it wasn't really until late 2002 that I became a Junior fan. And my loyalty to Junior has continued even through the switch to Hendrick Motorsports.

But what Junior did on Sunday was inexcusable. I'll admit it now after reviewing the DVR even though I wouldn't on the Locker Room Monday night, or to anybody else I've talked to since. As an Earnhardt fan, I apologize to everyone whose favorite driver was taken out in the wreck (that's for you Bobby.) I also apologize to everyone for saying so many times over the years that Dale Jr. was capable of winning a Sprint Cup Series championship and being competitive enough to win a bunch of races. At this point in his career, I think that a championship is out the door. I also think my allegiance to him as a fan has begun to dwindle. Overrated is a term that has really begun to sink in with me when talking about his Sprint Cup Series career recently.

If it were any other driver, 2 Nationwide Series championships as a driver and 2 more as an owner, 18 Sprint Cup wins (including the Daytona 500) and driving for the most successful team in the modern era would be a very respectable career. Unfortunately for him, 100 wins and 10 championships wouldn't begin to make the fans happy.

I'm criticized for being a Junior fan, cheering when Jimmie Johnson won his 3rd championship last year, saying Kyle Busch is a good driver, and dipping out when it comes to answering the hard questions about an idiotic move at Daytona. So I ask you this: If I wasn't a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, who should I pull for? Gordon? Johnson? Stewart? Shrubby? I'm not saying I would switch over, but I want some input, remembering that I've been an Earnhardt fan since I started watching racing in the late 80's.

I'll take your suggestions here. I want real reasons and not just some dumb answer for your choice.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 Chasers

I know I haven't posted about Daytona in a few days, but I'm still not caught back up on everything I missed here in the real world while I was down there.

But it occurs to me that I never documented my Chase drivers for 2009. Well, here they are:
Jeff Gordon
Jimmie Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Carl Edwards
Matt Kenseth
Greg Biffle
David Ragan
Kevin Harvick
Jeff Burton
Clint Bowyer
Kyle Busch
Tony Stewart

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Daytona (Thursday)

Thursday was go or go home day for 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. I was down on pit road after the second Gatorade Duel race and was right there when Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger got out of their cars after they raced their way in to Sunday's 51st running of the Daytona 500.

The look on their faces, and their crew guys and family, was priceless. Mayfield Motorsports didn't exist a month ago and Dinger lost his guaranteed starting spot the week before the Budweiser Shootout. For the first time in a while they, along with Scott Riggs and Regan Smith, will get a somewhat comfortable night's sleep tonight because they are in.

However, there were a bunch of guys not so lucky. Boris Said, Geoff Bodine, Kelly Bires, and Kirk Shelmerdine are among the guys who will load it up and head for home tonight. I can't begin to imagine what they are thinking. Bodine and Shelmerdine planned to run the entire season. I wonder if those plans have now changed.


Thursday was a long, hot day at Daytona. My feet ache and I'm a little sunburned. I got a story into the pre-race show, and it didn't go over as well as I'd hoped, but it was still there. Basically it goes like this: when it was time to talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr, I suggested to the producer and the talent guy that we should say nothing (in the best Seinfeld fan-way I can.) And he did. And it was gonna be great but the people in the stands really didn't get what we were trying to do. Oh well, I tried.

Tomorrow I'll get to sleep in for a bit, then it's back to the track for Nationwide qualifying and the Camping World Truck Series race tomorrow night. That event is always fun to watch because their is side-by-side racing and beating and banging. There's a full-field of trucks tomorrow night and most of those guys need a good showing to stay on track for the full season.

As always I'll have more from Daytona throughout the weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Daytona (Wednesday)

So if everything goes to plan, I'll have suggested and had aired the greatest story in the history of NASCAR Racing during the Sprint Vision pre-race for the Gatorade Duels tomorrow afternoon. Of course, this could be the worst thing I've ever suggested in my life. More on that later.

After the very comfortable drive to Florida (except through the construction zone that was ALL of Georgia) I got to the hotel and really enjoyed my afternoon. Got to sit in on the SV pre-race show prep for tomorrow (hence the opening paragraph above) and then caught up with my friends early in the evening. New Hampshire was a long time ago so it was nice to hang out with the crew for a little while. We're going to dinner in a bit and then who knows whats to follow. I just know I've got to be in the lobby at 8:45 in the morning.

I drove by the track today on my way in and it was a circus. The economy has hit NASCAR hard, but evidently fans are flocking to Daytona this weekend for what is sure to be an entertaining opening to the 2009 season.

Tomorrow's qualifying races will have some interesting points to it. In the first 150 miler, there are 6 drivers going for 2 spots. I'd take my chances in that race if I was Brad Keselowski, Joe Nemechek or Scott Riggs. But race number 2 has 10 guys going for 2 spots and that is gonna bring the fireworks. The difference between a guaranteed quarter of a million bucks to start on Sunday and loading up the truck tomorrow is huge-- this year more than ever.

In race number 2, you've got former Daytona 500 champs Geoffrey Bodine and Derrick Cope, not to mention a few other guys who have some crews that have put in alot of long hours over the last few months. And depending on what happens it could be a long weekend for those guys. I get to stick around until Sunday. Those guys who don't make the show tomorrow have to be out of the garage by sundown. The hopes and dreams of three months will go with them when they head back through the tunnel.

I don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow, except to say that we will all be entertained by the twin 150 mile last chance races. I'll have more from my trip to the 51st Daytona 500 all weekend long.