NASCAR: Dale Jr. Must Overcome Past at Watkins Glen to Keep Chase Hopes Alive

Luke KrmpotichContributor IIAugust 15, 2011

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 12, 2011 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

The Sprint Cup race was rained out on Sunday and has been postponed until 10 a.m. today, so that gives us time for a little more pre-race analysis. One of the major story lines in NASCAR the past few weeks has been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s free fall in the standings.

After sitting as high as third a couple of months ago, Junior has dropped all the way down to 10th. Winless on the year, he needs to put together some strong finishes if he hopes to be in the Chase after the checkered flag waves at Richmond in September.

If you turned on the TV yesterday in hopes of seeing the Cup race, you probably heard about how Dale Jr. doesn't like racing at road courses.

But you may not realize just how awful he has been at Watkins Glen of late.

Over the last two years, it is by far his worst track in terms of average finish at 32.5. Only Kentucky is close, at 30.0, and that's with a sample size of one race (2011 was the first year the Cup Series held an event at Kentucky).

Over the past five races, Junior's average finish at Watkins Glen is 29.4. His lone tone top-20 finish in that time span came back in 2006.

In fact, the only bright spot recently for Junior at the Glen was in 2008, when he started second and led 33 laps early in the race before fading to finish 22nd.

Once upon a time, Junior was more than decent at the track. He had a stretch of three straight top-10s at the track from 2003-2005, including a third-place result in 2003 and fifth in 2004.

If Earnhardt wants to have a good finish, he needs to recapture the road-course confidence he must have had at the Glen earlier in his career. Junior even has a win at the track, beating Ron Fellows in the old Busch Series in 1999.

So do not despair, Junior Nation. Despite his stated dislike for road courses, Dale Jr. knows how to get around the track. He may be starting 25th, but he is motivated and determined, and he knows a Chase berth is at stake.

Don't be shocked if he manages to eke out a top-10 finish when all is said and done.