For Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Fans, It All Comes Down to Talladega

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer INovember 1, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 14:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Michigan 400 at Michigan Internetional Speedway on August 14, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

In 24 hours Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his fans will either be celebrating a good day after the AMP Energy 500 or they'll be packing it in and heading for the golf course, the NFL, and the house until next year. 

It has all come down to Talladega.

Earnhardt Jr. will drive his No.88 "Ride With Jr." machine around the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway for the 20th time in his career. That machine will carry the names of over 73,000 Earnhardt Jr. fans that won't be settling for anything less than a victory.

It would be a sight that's all too familiar in Alabama, an Earnhardt in victory lane.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. won there 10 times in his career, the last coming in this race in 2000. Earnhardt Jr. has won there five times, the most recent being in 2004 when he was contending for a championship.

This year though, the only thing Earnhardt Jr. is contending for is peace of mind after going through one of the worst seasons in his career. 

He's win-less with just four races remaining in 2009 and sits 24th in points. He's with his second crew chief of the season and on his last nerve when it comes to how well things have not been going.

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He wants to win, and so do his fans.

On Sunday he'll return to the track that he finished second at in April, the only bright spot of his season. And when he takes the green flag, many will continue to say that it's his last and only chance to break into victory lane this season.

Jarad Turner of believes the same thing and recently wrote an article where the title says it all: "Talladega Likely Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Last Shot to Win in 2009."

For Earnhardt Jr. fans, while only some may admit it, they understand that as well.

Earnhardt Jr. needs to pull it off on Sunday or Jr. Nation may go crazy and everyone knows what happens when they do. 

But have they put all their eggs in this basket? 

Kenny Wallace, one of Earnhardt Jr.'s friends and biggest supporters, wrote on his Twitter page that he's picking Earnhardt Jr. to win on Sunday and that Earnhardt Jr. will stun the nation.

Another journalist published an article earlier this week and said that "'Dega Will Delight Jr. Nation!"

Facebook and Twitter pages are lighting up on the eve of the Talladega race with Earnhardt Jr. fans expressing how excited they are and how they're looking forward to the race.

Others express excitement over having their names on the car and how Earnhardt Jr. now needs to "GIT R DONE."

But it's not just this week and weekend that Earnhardt Jr. fans have been saying that. 

Months ago, as things continued to go downhill for the No.88 team, a quiet whisper began of "there's still Talladega," and "thank god Talladega's coming."

So, on Sunday the see of green and blue will pace the floor, cheer their driver on, clench their fists during three wide action, and cover their eyes when an accident breaks out. They might even look to the sky and ask Big E for help or say an extra prayer in Sunday morning mass. 

He's been picked by many in their fantasy leagues and as the sentimental favorite. Others believe that the over 73,000 names on his car will end the horrible luck that has followed him all year and in recent weeks. 

Talladega is here and everyone seems to believe that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be in victory lane at the end of 500 miles and 188 laps.

Even Earnhardt Jr. and his team believe it.

Early on Saturday afternoon spotter for Earnhardt Jr., TJ Majors, posted this on his Twitter page: "Driver is happy with the car and prepared. We came to win."

There's just a few things that can keep that from happening. 

There will also be 42 other drivers that believe they can win and want to be in victory lane, and no matter how popular and well liked Earnhardt Jr. is, it's highly unlikely that they'll pull over for him. 

Another problem is that thing called "The Big One," the accident that can occur out of nowhere and snatch up any driver that isn't on their toes.

It's an accident that collected Earnhardt Jr. in this race last year, as well as the July Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

You can't win if you crash and there will be crashes on Sunday.

However, as Halloween comes to a close and November works it's way in, Earnhardt Jr. and Jr. Nation will sleep tonight with dreams of a great celebration tomorrow. A celebration they all need and expect. 

But what's going to happen if their dream doesn't come true? What will be the result and reaction if something they plan on seeing, doesn't occur?

Well, here's your warning.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't celebrated in victory lane at the end of the AMP Energy 500, then as one Earnhardt Jr. fan said, they're all going to burst into flames.