Work in Sports
Earnhardt Jr. hopes friendly Charlotte will stop rut
By Ryan Smithson, CNNSI.com
It took Dale Earnhardt Jr. just 12 races to find victory lane in the Winston Cup Series.
It has taken him two races longer than that to score his sixth top-10 of the season.
Earnhardt has been stuck on five top-10s for 14 races now - a streak that dates back to the June Dover race.
The Winston Cup Series heads to Charlotte this weekend - a track that has been kind to both of the top rookies in NASCAR. Matt Kenseth took his first career win at Charlotte in May in a race that Earnhardt Jr. dominated before finishing fourth. Little E had also won The Winston all-star race the week prior.
It's not that the 25-year-old is struggling mightily, because he's not. But Earnhardt has not shown the form he displayed this spring - a form that appeared to have him at the front of a tight rookie battle with Matt Kenseth. In the 14 races since Dover, Kenseth has scored just three top-10s, although two of those are top-5s.
Earnhardt Jr.'s qualifying efforts have been subpar in the second half of the season. Little E qualified in the top 10 in the first four events and 10 of the first 14. In the last 14 events, Earnhardt Jr. has started in the top 10 just twice (he won the pole at the August Michigan event).
As a result, Kenseth has all but wrapped up the Rookie of the Year title. The Roush driver holds a 258-235 advantage, and Earnhardt can realistically hope to gain just a few points per race.
Kenseth is also higher in the points 13th to Earnhardt Jr.'s 16th), which gives him an edge in the voting segment of the Rookie of the Year chase.
Despite Earnhardt Jr.'s struggles in the second half, it is unlikely that the season can be declared a disappointment.
Earnhardt Jr. has run well at a variety of tracks - he has posted wins at a short track (his win at Richmond) and an intermediate track (his win at Texas), and he has run well at the one-mile monsters.