Well, the drought is over. After 76 races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is finally back in victory lane. The Earnhardt Nation rejoices, Dale Jr. has a genuine smile on his face again. Today, all seems right in the world once again.
There are detractors of course. There always are. During the closing laps, before the green-white-checker finish, Dale Jr. was using an old racer's trick to save fuel, by gunning the throttle, and then shutting off the engine. At times he nearly passed the pace car, and Nascar was warning him not to do that. Some fans said that Dale Jr. did pass the pace car and should have been black flagged. I can say that I never saw that happen, but we all see what we want to see sometimes. Nascar did not black flag Dale Jr. and he got the checkered flag, once again under caution. Dale Jr. did not have enough fuel to do a burnout, much less even get to victory lane without a push. Some have said that he has to have enough fuel to drive to victory lane under his own power, but I do know that this particular theory is complete hogwash. Nascar only requires that the winner coast across the start-finish line under his own power. That's exactly what Dale Jr. did.
It appeared that on the final stages of that last lap, 2nd place car Kasey Kahne was prepared to give the 88 car a push, and had he done so, that would have probably given Kasey the win, instead of Dale Jr. Kasey never touched Dale Jr.'s car though, so no harm, no foul. I don't think Kasey's intent, if indeed there was any, was to prevent Dale Jr. from winning. I think he thought possibly he might help out a buddy. I don't know what was going through Kasey's mind, but thankfully he never touched the 88 car, even if he was probably thinking he might be helping. Kasey was obviously not in a position to pass the 88 car had it slowed dramatically. He was right behind Dale Jr. the entire last part of the lap, and I'm guessing his intention was to help, not hurt.
But enough of the haters and the grousers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finally got rid of the curse, got the monkey off his back, finally broken the streak, or whatever phrase you'd like to use. It was an emotional time for Dale Jr. fans, as we saw crew chief Tony Eury Jr. with tears in his eyes, and maybe even a few in owner Rick Hendrick's eyes after the checkered flag. Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were gracious enough to come give the new guy a hug and congratulations in victory lane. I imagine Casey Mears did so as well, but if he did, TV failed to show me that.
Dale Jr. was obviously the big winner yesterday, but having watched Dale Jr. for so many years now, as happy as he is for the win, he's probably happier for his fans. Several times in his post race interviews, he referenced his fans, basically saying that he was happy because he knew his fans were happy. This is one of the reasons I am a Dale Jr. fan. He gives back to the fans, and he worries about whether they are happy or not. Most drivers are glad to have their fans, but they don't really show the concern that Dale Jr. has in the past. Dale Jr. has done various DVD and TV projects, and when asked why, he said "It's for the fans. It's to say thank you."
A lot of people realized one of the strange statistics from yesterday's race. Dale Jr. won, after a 76 race winless drought. Dale's father won 76 Cup races in his career. Dale Jr. broke the drought on Father's Day. In a touching post race moment, Dale Jr. mentioned that he wished he could tell his dad Happy Father's Day, but of course he can't, but Dale Jr. said it anyway by winning. I can't imagine a Father's Day present that Dale would have been more proud of.
Tony Eury Jr. made a gutsy call by not pitting Dale Jr. in the closing laps of the race. They all knew they would be very close to running out of fuel, but he made the gamble, and it paid off. Tony Jr. has been the subject of much criticism over the last year or so, and many say that Dale Jr. would be better off with a different crew chief. But Dale Jr. has been adamant that Tony Jr. stay with him. They are cousins, and grew up together. They often fight, just like all brothers do, but they are very close. Dale Jr. is very comfortable with his cousin and close friend on top of the pit box, and yesterday showed they they can be a winning combination. I never heard Darien Grubb's name mentioned last night, but I imagine his input was crucial in the fuel mileage decision as well. Well done, Darien, Tony Jr. and all the Dew Crew! You finally got the win, and you did so in splendid fashion.
A lot of the grousers out there conveniently forget that Dale Jr. won the first two races he ever ran in his new 88 Chevrolet. He won the Bud Shootout and his qualifying race at Daytona in February. Those weren't points races, but they were races. A race is a race, and a win is a win. Now that Dale Jr.'s finally won a points race, hopefully people will get off his back, at least a little. Some people, who should know better, also overlook the fact that Dale Jr. has been in 3rd place overall in points for sometime now. They also conveniently overlook the fact that he has been the most consistent of all the Hendrick cars. Up until yesterday, Dale Jr.'s numbers were very impressive in 2008, and the only thing missing was a win. Well, he's got it now, and a win is a win, and it will always be scored in the record books that way.
Win number 18 puts Dale Jr. in some fine company on the list of all time wins. 18 wins puts him in a tie with Geoffrey Bodine, Harry Gant, and Neil Bonnett. One more win will put him in a tie with Buddy Baker, Davey Allison, and Fonty Flock. I know most of you have never heard of Fonty, but that will be a subject of this blog in the future. This first win of the season is crucial for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career, and it's just one more mountain that he's climbed. Dale Jr. is in a good position to compete for his first championship, and if he keeps up the consistency he's shown so far this year, he will definitely be in the running to get championship number one.
Earnhardt fans! Celebrate this week. Dale Jr. finally got the win, and now we can concentrate on following our driver on to hopefully more victories and maybe even a championship. Today, all is good in the Earnhardt Nation.