No time like Talladega for Junior
The Time Is Now
Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped to Hendrick Motorsports this season because, more than anything else, he wants to win a Cup championship. And while NASCAR's most popular driver has been more consistent and successful this season than he has been for quite a while, the fact remains that time is running out on 2008 and Junior is mired in eighth place in the Chase, nearly 200 points out of the lead. He's got to make a move soon.
If Earnhardt is ever to reinsert himself into the 2008 championship picture, he must produce an outstanding result this weekend at Talladega -- and by an outstanding result, I mean a winning one. He's certainly capable. Talladega, is a track he once owned, where he won in four consecutive starts not so long ago. With the Chase leaders figuring to play it safe this weekend, trying to avoid getting caught up in the "Big One," the door will be open for somebody with the guts to go for it. The risks are big, but so is the reward.
Carl Edwards proved at Kansas last week, with his dramatic (if ultimately futile) final-lap pass of Jimmie Johnson, that even in these play-it-safe times, folks in the garage still respect gutsy decisions. A disastrous finish for Earnhardt (who's finished outside of the top 10 in his last two races) would wreck his chances for a championship, but a win would vault him back into title contention, and show everybody in NASCAR that, in the absence of Kyle Busch, the title isn't just being conceded to Johnson or Edwards.
HOW TO DRIVE
Jimmie Johnson, on what his approach will be this weekend: "I don't know. I really don't know what to do. The last couple of Talladegas have been pretty calm. Everybody has been relatively respectful to what's going on. The Spring race is always exciting, but last Fall was pretty mellow. So I just don't know. It's one of those things where you just kind of judge the situation at the time and just take it from there. It's really tough to map out strategy."
1: Number of drivers who have started and finished the fall race at Talladega with the lead in the Chase -- Jeff Burton did it in 2006
61: Points lead that Burton took into the '06 fall race at Talladega
6: Points lead that Burton held after finishing 27th in that '06 race
October 21, 2001: Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads a race-high 67 laps en route to victory in the EA Sports 500 at Talladega. The win is the first of four straight for Junior at the track.