To find the last time Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won a points paying NASCAR Sprint Cup race you have to go back almost three years. It was June 15th, 2008 and the race was the ?Life Lock 400? at Michigan International Speedway. That was 99 races ago and in the time since to say that he has struggled is being kind.
The media has been full of reports of what team owner Rick Hendrick has done in the interim to try and change things, so there?s no need for me to go into all that here. And there?s also been no end of opinions of what has been wrong by every pundit, blogger, and fan in the sport.
So far the 2011 season has been encouraging. In spite of a 24th place finish after crashing in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt?s average finish of 11th for the 6 races run to date is evidence of real improvement.
With 20 laps to go in this Sunday?s Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, it looked as if the string of non-wins would finally be broken. The fans rose to their feet as the green and white #88 Chevrolet roughed up bad boy Kyle Busch and sped away into the lead.
But as Earnhardt held point much to the delight of the 60,000 in attendance, Kevin Harvick had also dispatched Busch and set his sights on the leader. With four laps to go Harvick made the pass and let all the air out of the party balloons. Earnhardt trailed Harvick to the checkered flag by a mere .727 seconds for race number 99 without a win.
In post race interviews, Harvick was almost apologetic for being, ?. . . the bad guy. . .? but, like everyone else in the field, they came there to win, and win they did.
For his part, Earnhardt was not exactly thrilled but still encouraged by his best finish since the 2010 Daytona 500 where he also finished second. He was competitive all day at Martinsville and gained four spots in the points moving to 8th.
This was Harvick?s second win in a row, his first ever at Martinsville, and team owner Richard Childress? first win at that track since, ironically, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won there in 1995.
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