Much, OK a lot, has been made about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s pit road mistakes at Daytona. Message boards lit up with fans saying some unpleasant things and all NASCAR Web sites became animated with journalists saying that he's not focused and is showing that he's just a mediocre driver.
Newsflash: Even NASCAR's champions are making mistakes.
Ironically, they also happen to be Earnhardt, Jr.'s teammates, but they're not getting near the scrutiny that he has. Nor has anyone questioned their driving ability or focus.
While Earnhardt, Jr. was grabbing the major headlines at Daytona, Jimmie Johnson also wasn't having the best race. Johnson was in the back of the pack for much of the race fighting what he said was a tight car.
Johnson's first mistake of the year came during a pit stop when he missed his pit stall and had to back up.
He later went spinning through the grass in Turn Three during the "Big One." He suffered no damage, but still finished 31st.
One mistake by Johnson is easy to overlook. He's a three-time champion who for the past two years has always gotten off to a slow start. And without testing this year, everyone is a little rusty.
But two weeks late,r both he and teammate Jeff Gordon couldn't use the rusty excuse. During the Shelby 427 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and after leading many laps, Johnson once again slid through his pit stall and had to back up.
Then just laps from the finish he went spinning off Turn Two all by himself. He later admitted: "I just got down into Turn One on the outside of the No. 26 (Jamie McMurray) and maybe it was just a little too high and I got in the dirty stuff and just lost it."
Gordon also had a pit road snafu: He completely missed it.
Gordon's crew chief Steve LeTarte had told him to pit when the 48 of Johnson did. The problem was, Johnson was too far in front of Gordon to see when he was pitting and by the time he could tell, Gordon was already in Turn Four.
Instead of making another lap around the track, Gordon made the decision to slam on the brakes and make the hard left. The result was locking the tires up which led to the left front exploding and tearing up the fender.
If anyone's keeping count: Johnson three, Earnhardt, Jr. two, and Gordon one.
Except, just like the number of championships he's chasing, Johnson went for and got number four at Atlanta just days later.
NASCAR found him to be speeding on pit road and made him start at the tail end of the longest line. It took him out of top-five contention.
Fans and media alike were not nearly as harsh to Johnson and Gordon as they were to Earnhardt, Jr. Nor are their mistakes talked about as much. Between the two drivers they have seven championships and over 100 victories—they've proven they're pretty damn good racers.
But so far in 2009, both Johnson and Gordon have proven that every driver is bound to make mistakes, even NASCAR's great drivers.
Yes, even champions make mistakes and since the season is only five races in, they won't be the last.
Source: NASCAR.com, JimmieJohnson.com
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