We all know that despite their man not having won a race in the regular season this year, Junior Nation was pretty jacked up about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s chances entering the Chase again this year. Unfortunately, he goes right out in the first Chase race at Chicago and blows a motor, thus burying himself in a very deep hole.
What has been really impressive to me is the mental toughness he and the team have shown. Look, after the Chicago disappointment they could have very easily thrown up their hands and said heck with the rest of 2013. They could have tried new things and combinations to begin preparing for 2014, but they didn’t.
I think Dale Jr. had a lot to prove going into this year’s Chase when you consider how everything played out last year in the Chase. If you remember, he had a good Chase going, but was injured, had the concussion and had to step out of the car for a while thus eliminating any hope of winning last year’s championship.
The way he and the team ran at Talladega last Sunday was a huge shot in the arm. They hadn’t run that well at a track, quite honestly, where he used to dominate in quite a while. He finished second in the race and jumped three spots in the points to sixth position. The downside is, despite being in sixth, Dale Jr. is more than a full race behind in the points (-52) with only four races to go.
The one thing that is holding he and this team back is the one thing that dogged them all season. They need to win. Being consistent is great for your program. Having consistently good finishes is great for getting you into the Chase, but as you hear us say time and time again, it won’t win you the Chase. You have to win in the Chase to win the Chase, and they simply haven’t done that.
Winning allows you to make great strides in either separating yourself out front or closing the gap on the guy who is in the front. The No. 88 is just missing that one intangible. It’s that one day where you will yourself to Victory Lane. It’s that one day that you go up there and take it from the other 42 competitors. I think that’s where they are right now. They have a solid program all the way around. It just seems the door to Victory Lane and to a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is locked. They simply need to find it within themselves to kick the damn door in already.