Leave it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the biggest splash of the 2012 NASCAR season with his dominating Michigan performance last Sunday that ended a 143 race winless drought.
It wasn’t so much that it had been nearly four years to the date of his last win, or that it came on the same track, it was the manner in which it happened, more specifically, occurring on Father’s Day.
It also helps the moment that half the crowd wearing their green No. 88 gear at the track finally got to see their driver win a race and had the stands looking like a frenzied Shea Stadium after Bill Buckner booted the ball in the 1986 World Series. The crowd was as loud as I’ve heard a NASCAR race be since July of 2001, another Junior win coming at Daytona the year his father passed away.
The only person probably happiest to see Junior win was NASCAR President Brian France who admitted before the season that the sport would be greatly helped if Junior was winning races.
The effect of Junior’s win should be a tidal wave of renewed enthusiasm for NASCAR which means a boom for television ratings. NASCAR ratings have either dropped or been flat over the last four years and while the economy has been attributed to some of the declines, a lot of it has to do with Junior not being successful.
Junior fans are passionate and proud, but they haven’t had a lot to cheer about; losing 143 straight times as a fan in any sport can be a heavy burden to carry for any fan.
“Why waste my Sunday afternoon going to the race or watching it on television when the most likely scenario is being strapped with an inevitable loss.”
Losing teams always have lower attendance in every sport, but the franchise of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now on a winning streak. He also has himself firmly entrenched in second-place of the standings, four points behind Matt Kenseth.
With the way he’s been running all season, most knew a win was on the horizon, but what about winning the championship? Could Dale Earnhardt Jr. actually be in line to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship? If the answer is yes, you had better make a run over to the LVH Super Book and get your 10-to-1 ticket.
One thing is certain, we won’t be seeing Junior get back-to-back wins because this week’s race is on the road course in Sonoma, a place where Junior has never cracked the Top 10 in 12 career starts.
When I look at the candidates to win this week, I can’t seem to take my eyes off the name of Jeff Gordon. Maybe I’m searching for feel good stories like we had last week, but it just seems like a good spot for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
In the last month we’ve seen Gordon’s teammates of Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. all win races. The only goose egg on the team board belongs to Gordon.
Gordon needs wins to get in the Chase and he has the luxury over the next two months of racing on two tracks where he has a considerable advantage. Gordon is a five-time winner at Sonoma and a four time winner at Watkins Glen, but hasn’t tasted victory on either track since 2006.
Gordon has shrugged off the recent winless streak on the road courses saying the races didn’t mean as much in their overall picture which is why his team focused less on his road set-ups, but these races now mean everything to his season.
Because he’s sitting 20th in points and has virtually no chance at making the Chase based on points, he needs to get at least two wins to secure one of the final two at-large bids that go to the drivers with the most wins. There are currently four drivers ahead of him with one win each.
Gordon was runner-up last season at Sonoma and hasn’t finished outside the Top 10 in the five races since his last win there. Look for Gordon to treat the Glen as the most important race of his season and fight not to just finish in the Top 5, but for the win.
I like the desperation angle this week.