No more excuses for Junior

Published 7:15 pm Friday, February 20, 2009

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made two costly mistakes on pit road during the first 122 laps of the Daytona 500 last Sunday. The first, missing his pit stall and having to make another lap to pit in the correct stall, put him a lap down; not a fatal mistake on a track like Daytona. The second mistake, pitting outside his pit stall, also put Junior a lap down to the competition. Again, not a mistake that he couldn’t overcome with a strong car and a little luck.

Both of those mistakes were solely on Junior’s shoulders and affected no other driver.

But the mistake that Junior made on the 124th lap of the race negatively affected nine other cars, including some of the stronger cars in the race. Junior was racing hard to regain the lap lost by his second bone-headed move and attempted to pass Brian Vickers on the bottom of the track.

The problem was, Vickers was also racing to regain a lost lap and blocked Junior’s pass. In doing so, Junior slid down below the dreaded double yellow line, into a definite no-man’s land. I guess the combination of making pit-road mistakes and getting pushed down the track led Junior to make mistake number three on the day.

Junior clipped Vickers’ quarter panel, sending the field into a spin. As a result, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and several others were wrecked for the day. It was pretty clear-cut in my view, Junior wrecked Vickers. Plain and simple.

Now, I have made it no secret that Junior is my driver of choice, but he made a stupid mistake and wrecked lots of good cars. Of course, he claimed Vickers pushed him down and he had no choice. Baloney. He is too good of a driver to make that mistake. He let the frustration get the best of him.

It’s time for Junior to suck it up, quit making excuses, quit making mistakes, and win some races. There’s no reason why he only has one win in the last 98 races. He needs a serious wake-up call and Rick Hendrick very well could be that man to deliver it.

Congrats to Matt Kenseth on winning the rain-shortened race. It hard to believe that, despite all his success as a car owner, this was Jack Roush’s first Daytona 500 victory. Also, kudos to Richard Petty Motorsports for placing two cars in the top-five. AJ Allmendinger, who failed to qualify for the race in 2008, finished third and Elliott Sadler finished fifth, just what this team needed.

After an early exit from Daytona due to the rain, the teams make the cross-country trip to Fontana, Calif. and the Auto Club 500. There have been 17 races at this track and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have won six between them.

But look for the Roush Fords to be strong as new well rope. Kenseth is the only other multiple-time winner and will be a threat to win again to start the season. But my pick to win Sunday is a different Roush driver, 23-year-old David Ragan of Unadilla, Ga.