Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Wins Dangling Before His Eyes, Only to Be Ripped Away
Remember on the night of the Sprint All-Star race when FOX reporter, Darrell Waltrip, referred that the race was as if the money being dangled in front of the drivers face for them to reach out and grab? It's come down to where it seems as if each race falls under these circumstances for Dale Earnhardt Jr., minus of course, the million dollars.
But in all seriousness, every finish is a fight for Dale Jr. And not just your casual "gotta finish first" thoughts of every driver on the track, his fight to finish first is become more and more apparent as the weeks go on.
Let's head back to the first race of the 2011 season: Daytona.
It all started out with grabbing the pole of the Daytona 500, exactly 10 years after the death of his father on that very track. Though, it wouldn't hold up to the fact that his pole qualifying position would be taken away after having to move to his backup car after an accident in practice.
Fast-forward a week later, and there he is racing in the 500, a strong first finish of the year right there before him—maybe even a win—and boom into the wall. He would go on to finish 24th in the season-opening race.
Take a trip a week later to Phoenix.
Starting 35th, there was little optimism in the No. 88 camp heading into race day at Phoenix. Though, following the race, Junior would leave with a 10th place finish, the team's first top-10 in just the second race of the year.
How many wins will Dale Earnhardt Jr get in 2011?
He would collect two more top-15's before heading into Martinsville.
The fans were on their feet as Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled from a 26th place start and ran his way up to the front of the pack. But, to much avail, the lead would be cut short with only a few laps to go, when "The Closer"—Kevin Harvick—appeared and took home the victory, leaving Junior to finish second.
Following that race, Junior would take home another top-10 finish.
Another super-speedway was in sight, Talladega also known as "Earnhardt Country," it was a perfect opportunity for him to score a win in front of one of his biggest fan bases in the country.
Drafting with his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, almost the entire race, it came down to the final laps—only for Dale Jr. to push his teammate across the line first, and end up fourth. This was yet one more victory that he had in sight, but had to let slip between his fingers.
A slow patch of a 19th, 14th and 12th place finish hit the team before heading into Charlotte for the big-time race of the early summer—the Coca-Cola 600.
He started 25th, not too bad considering the race would be long and give him plenty of time to fight for a good finish. That's when, after getting three-fourths of the way through, it all came down to fuel-mileage. Made aware by his crew chief, Steve LeTarte, that he could make it to the end, Junior pedaled hard to get in position.
One more restart—two more flags—and the win would be his.
The dreaded word of any radio chatter between driver and crew chief.
All he needed was to retrieve the white then checkered—and every screaming fan in the crowd would be up on their seats and slamming the fences down to get a glimpse of his 100-plus race losing streak being broken before their eyes.
After different tactics to conserve under yellow, it became time for the final restart. He led the field to the green—to the white—and then, nothing.
"I'm out of gas," were his words on the radio as he came off the final turn.
It wasn't but seconds before "The Closer" reappeared, and snatched another win before him. Only for Junior to crawl to a seventh place finish.
Though, even after the heart-break, the team fired back up and moved on to Kansas with their heads high.
Another race on fuel-mileage. "Not again," were Dale Jr.'s thoughts when he heard of another race in a row with fuel mileage being the biggest factor. His team placed him in position though, cycling through pit stops and track position to move him up to second.
With 10 laps to go, he was feeling fine, knowing he could catch up to the leader, Brad Keselowski. One more time, Earnhardt could see the win hanging in the distance, but it disappeared as he was told to slow the car back a bit to be sure to make it to the end on fuel.
Following the race with a second place finish, his overall thoughts were, "All in all, a great top-five, a great day in the points for us."
Fans keep wondering and we all keep asking the same question, "When will Dale Jr. be back in Victory Lane?"
It's been the unanswerable question for over the past hundred races, but one thing is for sure, the answer is near—could be next weekend, or the weekend after that—but it's close and only time will tell as to when NASCAR's most famous driver will bust this spell and finally take home another win.
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