By Doug Halberstadt
Heading into last Sunday’s (Aug. 5) NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono, he had a 14-point lead over Matt Kenseth in the series point standings. In the first 20 races of the year, he’s had 15 top 10 finishes, nine top five finishes and one win. He’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. The perennial fan favorite could possibly be headed for his first-ever series championship. His consistency over the first part of this season is one of the key ingredients that has eluded him in the past. Things seem to be going his way this season.
All of that was prior to his transmission troubles about one-third of the way through the 160-lap race in the mountains of Pocono. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was running strong during the first part of the race, and things appeared to be going well for Junior, he even led a few laps. Then, he started missing gears, and a few laps later, the transmission completely broke, and he couldn’t get the car into any of the gears.
He was forced to take his ride to the garage for a transmission replacement. He did eventually make it back onto the track, but was down 18 laps. After the rain-shortened race, Junior finished 32nd, and his lead had dwindled to just 5 points over Kenseth. He was 6 points ahead of Greg Biffle and 8 points in front of Jimmie Johnson. Martin Truex Jr. is currently in fifth place, 50 points behind Earnhardt, Jr., and last year’s champion, Tony Stewart is in sixth place, 53 points off the pace.
This piece of bad luck may or may not end up having an impact on Earnhardt Jr.’s pursuit of a season championship. It’s still a bit too early to call. There are 15 races remaining this season before anyone can claim the title.
One thing NASCAR fans can be certain of is the 15 remaining races will be make-it-or-break-it time, not only for Junior, but for all of this year’s contenders. A total of 145 points separate the top 15 drivers.
The series moves to the road course at Watkins Glen this Sunday, Aug. 12. Fans can catch all of the action starting at 11 a.m. on ESPN.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Aug. 8-14, 2012, issue