Could Junior follow Senior to the head table at the banquet?
For the first time in a decade, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won more than one race in a season.
In the afterglow of Sunday’s victory at Pocono Raceway, is it too much of a stretch to suggest Earnhardt might also win his long-awaited first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship?
Yes, we all know that, in a quirk of the statistical model of last year’s performances superimposed over this year’s championship system, Earnhardt would have won the title without winning a race.
But that’s not reality, because the way every race team approaches the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year will be quantitatively and qualitatively different from anything that has been done in the past.
So is it realistic to project Earnhardt as a possible champion?
The Chase is now a game of survive and advance. To move from Round 1 to Round 2, simply stay out of the bottom four. To advance to Round 3, either win a race at Kansas, Charlotte or Talladega—all realistic possibilities for Earnhardt—or perform with the sort of consistency “Driver 88” has exhibited this season.
That’s right, even with the aberrant last-place finish at Texas, Earnhardt’s average finish this season is 11.1, on pace for a career- best in that category.
It’s not ridiculous to think Earnhardt might win one of the Round 4 races, at Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix. That puts him in the finale at Homestead for the big prize.
So don’t dismiss Earnhardt’s chances. He just might surprise you.
Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service