[media-credit name=”Dan Sanger” align=”alignright” width=”238″][/media-credit]Finally. Dale Earnhardt Jr wasn’t the only one wishing them final laps would quickly go by, lessening the opportunities for things to just go to hell. But they did not, and four years (and two days) after he won on fuel mileage at Michigan, Junior did it again. This time, however, he did it by having the best car out on the track. Thus, the long winter of his discontent sprung into spring within days of a new summer.
Maybe. While win number 19 has finally arrived, we would be remiss if we did not also acknowledge that while Sunday ended a 143-race winless slump, four years ago he won to snap a 76-race drought. Tony Stewart reminded us that Sunday at Michigan did not mark a national holiday, this coming from a man who has won seven races since September 19, 2011. Earnhardt has won seven races since, well, Richmond on May 15, 2004. That year marked the final year Junior was Junior, a 15 time winner in his first five full seasons. Since then, there was Chicago on July 10, 2005. There was Richmond on May 6, 2006. There was June 15, 2008 at Michigan, and then there was last Sunday. A week before he turned 30 he won at Talladega. Since then, he has won four.
Stewart was a distant runner-up at Michigan, followed by contenders Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon was sixth, but remains outside the Top Twenty and needs wins and nothing but wins to make the Chase. Those in Chase positions at present remain secure, as even if Brad Keselowski loses his two point lead over Carl Edwards, his two wins maintains his invitation. While Edwards can still make it on points, wins and a wild card position remain the hope for others. Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman hold them at present, with a win apiece.
As they motor west to the coast and the Infinion road course, Edwards’ goal is to either win or be better than Keselowski. Shrub and Newman are fine, unless they get beat by twenty or more positions by Joey Logano or Kasey Kahne, or one of those gentlemen win their second of the season. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, and Clint Bowyer need wins at present only for the bonus points they would get for the Chase, but everyone else not already in the Top Ten have to win, and probably more than once, over the next three months.
A year ago, Kurt Busch won at Sonoma. This year, he will not. Jeff Gordon was second. This year, he needs to win. Edwards and Bowyer were next, with Edwards needing it more. Marcos Ambrose rounded out the Top Five in 2011, but today finds himself needing to put his experience to work and go for the checkered flag. Despite all the road course ringers who are brought in special for this race, none have ever won it. Kasey, Kyle, and Jeff have. Maybe we might have to watch for them. Enjoy the week.