I said it back in the offseason that I believed this new Generation 6 NASCAR Sprint Cup car would play right into the hands of a driver like Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Now I realize it’s only been two races in the new season, but so far, Dale Jr. hasn’t made a liar out of me. He had a strong second-place finish at Daytona International Speedway and followed that up with a fifth-place finish Sunday at Phoenix.
Dale Jr. has 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins. However, during the last five-and-a-half seasons of racing the Car of Tomorrow, it’s really been pretty dismal for him in his attempts to get to Victory Lane. He’s only won a couple of races and both were at Michigan.
It just seemed like Dale Jr. never could get his arms around the old car and what it was doing. He never seemed to have a comfort level on the feel it was giving him. I said before Daytona that I felt this car would be a good fit for Dale Jr. This car has more downforce and I think it takes somewhat a step back in time to the cars Dale Jr. was so successful in before the Car of Tomorrow.
I think it is ironic that three of the drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – had top-five finishes on Sunday at Phoenix, just like they did the week prior at Daytona.
Those are two completely different tracks, cars and aero packages, but I still say you can’t escape the thought of which teams already seem to have a handle on this new car and what it likes.
So Dale Jr. is running up front and running strong. I mean who knows, if it wasn’t for the mishap on pit road with Casey Mears, there is a good chance we could be talking about Dale Jr. winning the race last Sunday and not Carl Edwards.
I have to be honest, I was a little skeptical about Dale Junior’s chances on Sunday. I mean he only qualified 21st and in watching he and his team in practice it just seemed like they never truly zeroed in on what they were looking for from the car. That all changed on race day and that car really came to life in the latter stages of last Sunday’s race.
This Sunday we head to our third different style track in the opening three races.
Las Vegas, as you know, is high-banked, fast track that doesn’t have nearly the same grip as Phoenix. So keep your eye on that No. 88. If Earnhardt Jr. can put another top-five finish on the board or, even better, pull into Victory Lane, that’s going to serve notice in the garage area that he’s one everyone’s going to have to contend with this season.