Will anyone remember who won the 2011 Coca Cola 600? Probably not. But everyone will remember who didn’t win: Dale Earnhardt Jr. You could hear the hearts of Junior Nation breaking as Earnhardt Jr started to slow coming out of turn 4 on the final lap. We all knew that fuel was an issue and he was cutting it close, but no one expected that.
Even non-Junior fans were in disbelief as he coasted across the finish line in seventh place. Seventh place is almost a letdown considering how well he ran throughout the race. He had the fastest car on the track for much of race.
After fighting his way to the front from a 25th-place starting position, seeing victory slip from his grasp is such a devastating loss for Junior Nation and their driver.
On the upside, nobody can take away how well Earnhardt Jr ran in this race. He gained positions during long green flag runs; he passed drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch effortlessly; and he stayed in sight of the leaders for the entire second half of the race.
Earnhardt Jr maintained his fourth-place points position and he is in serious contention for the Chase. We haven’t seen him this high in points since 2004.
I think having Steve Letarte as crew chief this season has changed the team for the better. It has changed Dale Jr’s attitude toward racing and has given his team a positive outlook for the future. Everyone now knows that the No. 88 team can and will win races this season. Unfortunately, we will have to wait a little longer for it.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr made his Sprint Cup Series debut in the Coca Cola 600 this weekend, filling in for Trevor Bayne in Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 Ford. Bayne has been out of the car due to an undisclosed illness and will be back in the car at Kansas. Stenhouse recently won his first career Nationwide Series race and has now proven he may be able to hold his own at the Cup level.
He qualified in ninth place and finished 11th. He stayed out of major trouble and drove a clean race. I think this helped him show people (and sponsors) that he can get the job done. I would love to see his face in the Cup series in the near future.
AJ Allmendinger started on the outside pole for the Coca Cola 600 and came home with a hard-earned Top 5. He is now 13th in points, 18 points out of 10th spot. His crew chief Mike Shiplett won the Direct TV Crew Chief of the Race Award. If the No. 43 team keeps this up, they might see themselves in contention to make the Chase.
Most people think that the 600 mile race at Charlotte is too long and boring. The last thing people will say when they think of the 2011 Coca Cola 600 is “boring.” This race gave us door-to-door racing, intense battles for the lead, fuel mileage drama, and it kept us on our toes until the checkered flag. This race will go down in history as one of the biggest heart breaks for NASCAR fans. Congratulations to Kevin Harvick, luck was on your side my friend.