Junior Nation Wringing Their Hands in Frustration
Junior Nation is not a small country south of the border. Junior Nation is about one man — Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver and son of a Hall-of-Famer with a fan base every other competitor dreams of. Even five-time champ Jimmy Johnson does not have a "Nation."
Dale Jr. fell four laps short of giving something The Nation wants more than tee-shirts and coozie cups. They want Junior in Victory Lane. They want to see their idol jumping on top of the car, fists in the air, confetti sticking to his face, the Sprint Cup girl practically in tears, and even old DW up in the broadcast booth weeping.
It's a dream that has gone on now for nearly 100 races. The last time Jr. visited Victory Lane was June of '08 at Michigan.
But hopes are high in Junior Nation. Their hero is running good and high in the standings. Since a rough start in Daytona where he finished 24th, he hasn't finished worse than 12th. He has three top tens and a second last week at Martinsville.
Texas Motor Speedway is the site of Junior's first win on April 2, 2000. Everybody remembers when he came back to Daytona just a few months after losing his famous father in turn four and drove his memory straight into the winner's circle. His best season was 2004 where he won six races including a hot August night in Bristol.
Then, Dale's fortunes fell away, winning only one race in 2005 and 2006, none in 2007 and then his last victory in Michigan — 2008. A quiet hush fell over Junior Nation as the throng wondered when he would find another checkered flag. Some has described his performance of the last two seasons as abysmal and even amateurish. But Dale soldiered on.
Then in 2010, Junior showed up in Daytona with a little bounce in his step. He had a new crew chief and a new attitude. Dark clouds were leaving The Nation and every fan believed with every beat of their Sprint Cup heart the time was near.
An Earnhardt win would be good for NASCAR, good for the team and good for every fan of this special icon of the sport.
A fair warning to corporate America. Monday after Dale's next win may be a little sparse around the office. Junior Nation will still be in the throes of Sunday's celebration.
Racing begins Friday evening with the Nationwide Series, O'Reilly Autoparts 300 at 8:30 p.m. EST and the Sprint Cup Samsung Mobile 500, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.