NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: The fix is not in for Junior to win

One of the funniest things to read in various NASCAR articles, or the comments that follow them, is that NASCAR is trying to fix races so Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can get a win. Yes, there’s probably a good amount of truth to it that NASCAR’s leaders would love to see their most popular driver win for the first time in nearly four years in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday at Charlotte. And yes, there is reason for optimism for Junior fans as he led all 40 laps of the Sprint Showdown (although admittedly against a weak field) and 19 of 20 laps to win the fourth segment of the All-Star race. Junior’s crew chief Steve Letarte is even using a bit of common sense by bringing back the all-star car for the 400-lap event at the 1.5-mile track.

But even with all of this, the fact remains Junior has not won a race since June 15, 2008. That’s a total of 140 Sprint Cup points races without a win. Obviously, that’s a long time for a driver of an elite team to go without a win. There are Junior fans who have started families and have yet to share the joy of victory with their children.

And that’s the point.

While all of this makes for good speculation for the Junior haters out there, I have to break the bad news to you. If NASCAR could actually put the fix in for Junior to win a points race, he wouldn’t be winless in his last 140 tries. So the question remains, will we see him there sometime late Sunday night?

Here are my picks for this week:

Jimmie Johnson – He’s won this race six times and it’s at Charlotte. He could drive a scooter around the place and probably figure out a way to win.

Jeff Gordon – He’s been the king of bad luck this season, and it’s hard to believe he is 24th in the points standings. But Charlotte has been good to him, too–he won his first race here and has five victories total. In spite of the bad luck, just a feeling this could be a real good day for him.

Kasey Kahne – Yes, I know, another Hendrick car, and it’s still not Junior. But Kahne has won this race three times and has been eighth or better in the last five races.

Matt Kenseth – He was strong in the All-Star race and has won the 600-miler once, too. He’s got the necessary patience needed to make it to the end.

Mark Martin – All right, I know, he’s bit of a sentimental pick here, but he’s in better shape than most 20-somethings out there, so forget about his age. He’s also won this race four times with an astounding 18 top-five finishes. And the No. 55 car he is has been strong all year.

Should, woulda, coulda – OK Junior fans. I couldn’t pull the trigger on him winning this one. Hendrick cars are great at Charlotte, but I can’t pick all four of them.

Even though they don’t count in the points standings, or on my record, Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared in the All-Star race.

Jimmie Johnson: 1st. It’s Charlotte, No brainer.

Brad Keselowski: 2nd. No shame in being No. 2 behind No. 48.

Kyle Busch: 4th. Was strong all night, but couldn’t mount a challenge in final 10 laps.

Here’s a look at my results after 11 races and 55 picks.

5 wins
19 top fives
23 top 10s
Grade for the week: A. OK, that’s four winners in a row now and also a 1-2-4 finish. Not much room for improvement..

One Last Thing: A NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race/Coca-Cola 600 sweep has occurred seven times. Johnson has a chance to be the first to accomplish the feat twice. The drivers who have accomplished and the years they did it were Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (’91), Dale Earnhardt (’93), Jeff Gordon (’97), Jimmie Johnson (2003), Kasey Kahne (’08), Kurt Busch (’10).

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