With retirement looming Dale Jr. could be a threat at Talladega
May 02, 2017 3:05 AM
by Micah Roberts
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is already a quarter of the way finished following Sunday’s race at Richmond where Joey Logano finally captured his first win of the season.
Logano goes to Talladega Superspeedway’s monstrous 2.66-mile layout and is considered one of the favorites since he’s won two of the past three races there. However, the big favorite this week any way you flip it will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. who announced last week he’s calling it quits following the 2017 season.
Junior is the favorite because he’s got 10 restrictor-plate wins, Hendrick Motorsports has a great restrictor-plate program and also because of supply and demand. In the good old days when Junior won four straight Talladega races from 2001-03, he would have his odds shaved down lower than he should be just because every sportsbook knew they would get loaded on his action. Then he’d go out, win and make it look easy.
For this week’s race because of his popularity his odds will be lower than they should be. People will bet him at Talladega and if they don’t win they’ll have a nice souvenir from his farewell season. He last won a race in the fall of 2015, a season he won three times, one of which came at Talladega.
Last season he missed the final 18 races due to a concussion to close out anywhere. This season, things have been tough on him with only one top-10 finish in his nine starts. That’s not good at all and he’s got to take a lot of the blame himself.
That leads to not having any fun, either, and it’s important for drivers. Confidence is a huge aspect of drivers even though its usually the equipment that sets them apart. But I think Junior knows he’s one of the best at seeing air in the draft. He understands it well and I believe he knows he’s really only got three legitimate whacks at wins: the two races at Talladega remaining and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona – the three plate races left.
With a win he can coast into the playoffs with an automatic berth. But as of now he’s sitting 24th in points and it would be a shame for him to miss the playoffs in his final season. I want Junior to do well. I want him to win a few races and I’d love to see him roll out on top as a champion like Peyton Manning and John Elway did.
The fans really want Junior to win, too. Talladega has a long standing love bond with Earnhardt and his father. He is King there and every driver knows it. When he takes the lead it’s going to be a roar louder than the cars.
And when he wins its going to be one heck of a party. I’m a believer because I’ve seen goofy, unworldly stuff happen with this guy. I still can’t explain all the wild happenings of the 2001 season after his father passed.
Picking a winner in the plates races is always hard because so many drivers have equal cars. The Daytona 500 results are the perfect example of randomness with Kurt Busch winning at 40-to-1 followed by Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger in third, Aric Almirola fourth and Paul Menard fifth. That might be one of the most upside-down looking top-five finishes we’ll see this season, or until, maybe, Sunday at Talladega.