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Published on April 27th, 2009 | by Michael J Smith


Why Dale Jr Came Up Short At Talladega

Today I was asked why Dale Earnhardt Jr came up short at Talladega Superspeedway. Why didn’t he win, considering he was in position to win, and had a strong car?

It’s true that Dale Jr was in the catbird seat. He was running second in the closing laps behind Ryan Newman, and should have been able to pass him on the final lap. But he didn’t. Why not?

Throughout the Aaron’s 499, two cars running nose-to-tail in the high line were faster than a line of cars at the bottom of the track, no matter how many cars were down there.

Dale Jr and the lapped car of Jeff Burton used this strategy to pull away from the pack in the middle of the race. Denny Hamlin also pushed many cars to the lead doing the same thing.

On the final lap, Jr was tucked in behind Newman, hoping to break the two cars away from the pack and make it a two-man race.

If the two were running one lane off of the bottom, then perhaps Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski wouldn’t have passed them. But, Newman didn’t want to leave the bottom open for Jr, so he procected his line, which was smart on his part.

By the time Edwards and Keselowski caught Newman and Jr, it was too late for them to make a move. Jr could have attempted to block Edwards, but they may have driven right by him, or worse, crashed into him. So, he stayed where he was. His only hope was that Edwards and Keselowski would lose momentum and he could push Newman back by them.

More than a victory, Jr needed a good points day. So he went for the smarter move (ensuring a good finish) rather than the risky move (jumping in front of Edwards). Had the opportunity presented itself where he could have made a clean move for the victory, he would have. But it didn’t, so he did what he did all day, stayed out of trouble.

About the Author

Michael J. Smith is a NASCAR enthusiast and blogger. In addition to founding this website, Michael is a journalist with over a decade of experience writing for prestigious media organizations.

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