The above photo is courtesy of TheFastandtheFabulous.com It's of the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s helmet at at least some of the Daytona races in which he participated in 2009. In case nobody's heard the news, Matt Kenseth is the 2009 Daytona 500 winner in a rain shortened race. I doubt that many people are actually talking about that today or will remember it 3 weeks from now. Congratulations, Matt Kenseth!
The big news from Sunday's race is, of course, the wreck. Dale Jr., restarting the race a lap down for receiving pit service outside his pit stall, restarts on the inside. He ends up behind Brian Vickers. Dale Jr. thinks he can squeeze by on the inside. Brian Vickers cuts down the track to block, bumping Dale Jr. below the double yellow line. Dale Jr., nearly in the grass, pulls back up the track, and the replay shows making minimal contact at most with the TV panel on the back of Brian Vickers' Toyota. Brian goes for a spin, taking out several cars with him, including most-laps-led leader Kyle Busch. TV replays show no visible damage to the rear of Vickers' car when he begins his spin. There are no bumper bars hanging out, no sheet metal dragging. The key words here are when the Vickers Toyota begins its spin. At this point, any discernible damage to the rear of the Toyota would have been caused by Dale Earnhardt Jr. But I'm not wanting to get into any magic bullet theories here, or as seen on Seinfeld, magic loogies.
Sunday night and Monday morning, I've read various comments as to how Earnhardt Jr. "ran over" or "punted" Brian Vickers. I guess I watched a different race. At best, Earnhardt Jr. gave Vickers a nudge. I've got an announcement to make: Brian Vickers did nothing wrong. It's legal, under the rules of NASCAR to block another car. Is it always the smartest thing to do? That's another issue.
To say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was without fault in the 2009 Daytona 500 would be facetious, at best. Early in the race, Dale Jr. completely missed his pits, putting him in the rear of the field. I'm sorry, that's a mistake that a driver who has driven in 10 Daytona 500's shouldn't make. Every driver makes mistakes, but missing the pit completely was inexcusable. If the crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. wasn't counting him down to his specified pit, or whether Dale Jr. just screwed up, those are the kind of mistakes that will lose races.
On a later pit stop, Dale Jr. put his right front tire about an inch onto the line marking the pit stall. The NASCAR official quickly pointed out the error, and apparently no one paid any attention to him. The crew completed their right side tire service and a crew member even pushed the official out of the way when making his way back to the left side of the car. The 88 team had the option of repositioning the car within the pit stall, and though they would have lost valuable time, they still could have completed the pit stop without a one lap penalty.
These are mistakes that should not be made by veteran drivers and crews.
For comparison purposes, there was an incident in the Saturday Nationwide race where driver Jason Leffler nudged driver Steve Wallace and sent Wallace into the outside wall, ending his day. For that transgression, Leffler was held in his pit for 5 laps, effectively ending his chances at have a good run as well.
Numerous comparisions between the Earnhardt Jr./Vickers incident and the Leffler/Wallace incident have been made today, with the concensus apparently being that Earnhardt Jr. should have been penalized 5 laps as well. I can't argue against that opinion. NASCAR apparently felt that Leffler's bump on Wallace was intentional, while the same sanctioning body felt that Earnhardt's bump on Vickers was not. It's possible that radio traffic between Leffler and his crew chief or spotter may have led to NASCAR's decision to park him for 5 laps. I don't know all the facts as far as that incident. I was not listening to Leffler's radio, and don't know what was said. The fact of the matter is just this: It's often perception, other than truth, that leads to fans' discontent over the show that NASCAR puts on.
Most of the opinions that I've read today point to the perception that Earnhardt Jr. was treated favorably by NASCAR, either because of his popularity, or his last name. Whether that is the truth or not, it really doesn't matter to the fans or the press. It's the perception that counts here. What is actually the truth of the matter means little. I personally didn't see Earnhardt Jr. do much of anything that most of the other drivers in the field wouldn't have done. If it had been, say, Greg Biffle that spun out Vickers, I doubt there would have been much talk about it, except among the fans of the drivers actually effected by the incident.
Diehard fans are diehard fans. I actually am a Dale Jr. fan, but I'm a fan of other drivers as well. I no longer post on, or really even monitor any of the Junior Nation fansites anymore. The hatred for the Dale Jr. fans mostly comes from fans of drivers who either had clashes with Dale Sr., or are just jealous, in many cases. Unless you're a Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, or Matt Kenseth fan, chances are you hate Dale Jr. because of his popularity, and because so far your driver hasn't accomplished as much as Dale Jr. Dale Jr. has never won a Cup championship, but neither have a lot of other great drivers. Jeff Burton has never won a championship. So far, Kyle Busch hasn't, though he was the odds on favorite in 2008, going into the Chase for the Cup. Carl Edwards hasn't yet. Kevin Harvick hasn't either. Relative old timer Mark Martin hasn't, but he's trying one more time.
Here are the facts about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He only has a ride because of who his daddy was? Can you say your driver isn't in Cup racing because his family never helped him? Anyway, here are the facts. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won 18 Cup races. He's won poles, not many, but he has won some. He won the All Star Race in 2000, his rookie year. He's won the Bud Shootout more than once. He also won 2 Busch Series championships before he even ran Cup full time. He's a Daytona 500 winner. You may think of him as a Daytona or Talladega guy, but he's won at Bristol. He's won at Richmond. He's won at Phoenix. He's won at Atlanta. He's won at Chicago. He's won at Michigan and Dover.
Yeah, I'm a Dale Jr. fan. I don't look at him as if he has no faults though. I know he has them. He can do wrong in my book. He did it yesterday at Daytona. Dale Jr.'s human, ok? He makes mistakes just like the rest of us. He made mistakes at Daytona, but if I remember correctly, he's not the only driver to move someone out of the way. He's not even the first Earnhardt to do so.