What a weekend we had at Talladega! There was some great weather, phenomenal racing and another victory in Alabama for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sixth win at the 2.66-mile track. Seeing Junior in Victory Lane so emotional, and so happy with his first win of 2015, was something special that NASCAR fans will remember for years to come. There’s no question that Earnhardt Jr. is a popular driver. He’s sold the most merchandise and has won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award for a record 12 years in a row. But what has always been discussed and questioned by many in the NASCAR fandom has been Junior’s level of dominance over other drivers in the sport. We’ve never seen the kind of racing out of him like we did last season, and while it looked like he and former crew chief Steve Letarte were headed for a serious run at the Cup, they fell short come Chase time.
Could this weekend’s display of performance at one of Junior’s favorite tracks help surge the No. 88 bunch into another solid season and run into the Chase for 2015, much like his win at Daytona did last season? Whatever happens, if these kinds of runs can come to fruition for Junior and the No. 88 team throughout the rest of 2015, fans and sponsors alike won’t be disappointed.Speaking of sponsors, Danica Patrick and long-time partner GoDaddy annouced that they would not be renewing their sponsorship of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing last week. Although Patrick will reportedly still retain her personal services sponsorship deal with the web hosting/domain company, the driver and SHR officials have already stated they are engaged in an active search for another primary sponsor on the No. 10 machine for 2016. What this means for Patrick is still unclear. Now in her fifth year of NASCAR racing (fourth in Sprint Cup), Patrick is a marketer’s dream when it comes to getting a product or service noticed, but the real question is, has her failure to produce results on the track hurt her marketability off the track, and in the board room?
Now onto this week’s Mailbox questions from you, our readers…
Q: Greg, during that last lap at Talladega this weekend, when Carl Edwards spun and wrecked, was NASCAR wrong to not throw the caution flag given that it was the last lap? Also, what do you think is up with Carl this season? He’s been really up and down to start the year. Thanks. – Roy F., Carolina Beach, N.C.
A: Roy, thanks for the question. What we saw on the final lap at Talladega on Sunday was scary, and although he was wrecked, Edwards thankfully walked away from the situation unharmed. The trouble that occurred was hard to avoid, but a caution in my opinion was not warranted, and NASCAR officals agree. Here’s what NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM’s NASCAR Radio “The Morning Drive” during his interview on Monday, according to Dustin Long of NBC Sports Network:
“It’s going to be a judgment call. We’ve stated that we’re going to make every effort to try to finish under green-flag conditions. That’s what the fans want to see. We’ve got to be obviously mindful of what’s occurring on the racetrack. It’s a split-second decision.
“I think yesterday if you look at the circumstances that played out with Carl, when we initially saw him get loose, he was down on the apron. As we made that quick decision, it was ‘OK, he’s clear we can go.’ Just as you make that, his car slides up across the track. That’s something you don’t want to see under green or yellow-flag conditions, but, at the time, if we would have thrown the yellow, then it’s too late because he’s already up and across the track. We elected to let it play out. We certainly didn’t like to see how Carl came across the track but ultimately we were able to come back under green-flag conditions.
“People want to point to who’s leading, who’s not leading, what could have happened, what didn’t happen. I know it’s hard to believe for some folks, we don’t look at that. We look at the circumstances of the incident. We’ve got to make that call. We’re not always going to be right. We know with each decision we open it up for debate. That’s sports. We’ll talk to Carl and the competitors about that but did like seeing us being able to finish under green.’’
Ultimatly Roy, it is a tough call to make, and in this case, NASCAR made the right one.
As far as what’s happening with Edwards and the No. 19 car right now, I think you’re seeing a couple of things take shape. One, I think that Edwards built up his expectations and drove himself a little too hard to be successful right off the bat starting up with Joe Gibbs Racing. Two, it is just simply what one should expect when converting over to new equipment and a new crew chief. Both are huge changes for drivers at any level – even Sprint Cup racing. Give Edwards some time, though. If he doesn’t have a victory before the Chase, he’ll be one of the drivers we’re talking about as “on the bubble” going into Richmond. He has posted a top-10 finish this year at Texas, and started third at Bristol. He’s just had a lot of bad luck in many races this year, leading to sub-par finishes.
Q: Hey Greg, I’m a huge Ryan Blaney fan. I acutally live near where his family is from in northeast Ohio. Anyway, we were thrilled to see how he did in the race last weekend at Talladega! He’s really becoming a great racecar driver, and like his dad will drive just about anything. What do you think his prospects are in Sprint Cup down the road? Thanks. – Sue P., Warren, Ohio
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