Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rusty Reckons: Is Junior Back?

I know we're only three races into the 2011 season, and it's too early to really get a sense of who's going to be in contention come November. However, you have to be mildly impressed and hopeful with the results from the 88 stable. Hendrick made some big swings this off season trying to fix the issues for NASCAR's most popular driver. He put Steve Letarte on top of the pit box, and moved the 88 team into the same garage as the 48. Improvement by osmosis was the hope. Now, Junior's still marred in a long nearly 100 race winless streak. However, he is currently sitting 10th in points and has piled up two top 10 finishes in the last two races. If not for an unfortunate late race wreck, he probably had a top 10 car at Daytona, as well. Possibly a winning car. We'll never know. Also telling is that Junior appears to be having fun again. Make no mistake about it, when he's not running up front, he's a miserable cuss. If he's having fun, though, he can be a force to be reckoned with. The biggest problem with the 88 team and even going back to when he drove the 8 for DEI was an inability to adjust the race car throughout a race and get a good finish. He often could run well at the start or through the middle, but would always fade at the end. Communication from the race car to the pit box was the big issue. This is the biggest change and improvement for the affectionately nicknamed June-bug, this year. He's talking to Letarte and they are able to adjust the car to make it better and get good finishes. I'm not completely sold that he'll be able to sustain the Mo and be in the Chase this fall. However, I remain cautiously optimistic. There appears to be some life in him, yet.

On another somewhat related note . . . apparently, someone is trying to sell the hearse that carried Junior's old man, the late great Dale "The Intimidator" Earnhardt Sr. to his final resting place. Cryptic . . . yet intriguing.

- Brandon "Rusty"
Follow me on Twitter, @bkke.

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