Commentary

Dale Jr. not throwing Tony Jr. under the bus anytime soon

Of course Dale Earnhardt Jr. was frustrated by a bad call at Watkins Glen. It doesn't mean he's going to Monday Morning Crew Chief his man Tony Eury Jr., writes Marty Smith.

Updated: August 20, 2008, 12:43 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Immediate satisfaction at the expense of others is often fleeting.

Marty,

I know this issue was discussed a lot early in the season, but after Sunday's race I'm pretty frustrated with Tony Eury Jr. It sure seemed like he made a VERY costly error in strategy … as a matter of fact, did he even have a strategy?

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Running as long as you can before pitting doesn't seem like a strategy, it sounds like doing nothing. At the very least you'd think he would have learned from earlier in the race when [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] fell from the lead to sixth because the cars that pitted earlier were running so much faster.

Having listened to Junior's radio before, I'm sure TV couldn't replay what was being said by Junior about it at the time, but I was hoping you could shed some more light on it.

What did Junior think? What was your take on the way it played out for the No. 88 car?

-- Mark, Des Moines, Iowa

It was questionable strategy, Mark. Even Eury admits making a mistake. During the network broadcast Sunday, he said "I gave the race away, basically." But to me, was it really any more questionable than the strategy he used to win Earnhardt the race in Michigan? Nope.

Sometimes you have to cast conventional wisdom aside, take an unorthodox approach. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you look like an idiot.

Look, we can armchair quarterback the hell out of every race, but the fact is the No. 88 Chevrolet got terrible fuel mileage and was probably junk in dirty air, and Eury was going to do what he could do to keep it out front. In retrospect, it looks stupid. And at the time it made ESPN's announcers openly question the move.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt Jr
Jerry Markland/Getty Images/NASCARDale Earnhardt Jr. is confident in his crew and his crew chief.

But I discussed this with Junior this week, and he told me precisely what I thought he'd tell me: Tony Eury Jr. has the hardest job in NASCAR -- damned if you do, damned if you don't. Every. Single. Weekend.

Nothing but Victory Lane is good enough for Dale Jr.'s fans. Did he throw one away Sunday? Possibly. But his driver has his back. Earnhardt Jr. may cuss Eury Jr.'s very being every Sunday, but he doesn't want anybody else directing that race team.

From Earnhardt's perspective, no one devotes more time, energy and emotion to his job than "Cuz" does. No one cares more for his team or driver, either.

So you can complain about Eury until you pass out from lack of oxygen, Mark, but he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. His driver has his back.

D2D Chaseology
Four races remain in the 2008 Race to the Chase (RTTC). Hence, we shall unveil D2D: Chaseology, my version of ESPN.com's wildly popular "Bracketology" feature used for the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

My source will remain anonymous, but rest assured he's forgotten more about the Chase than most folks -- me included -- will ever know.

Here are some what-ifs for you stat junkies out there.

  • Top-5 alive: The greatest comeback in RTTC history is Matt Kenseth's surge during the final four races in 2006. Following an 18th-place finish that year at Watkins Glen, Kenseth stood 162 points out of 10th place. From there, he top-fived 'em into submission, with a third-place effort at Michigan, a win at Bristol, a seventh-place effort at California and a runner-up run at Richmond.

    In the inaugural Chase in 2004, Mark Martin overcame a 72-point deficit to make The Show. His final four races included a second-place run at Michigan, a third at California and a fifth at Richmond. From here on out, everyone must focus on converting top-5 finishes.

  • Safe at home: After 22 races in 2006, Tony Stewart seemed relatively safe in the seventh position, 122 points ahead of 11th place. He missed the Chase.

    Last weekend Jeff Gordon, currently sixth in the standings, slipped into the danger zone with a baffling 29th-place effort at The Glen, and now sits just 148 points ahead of 13th-place Clint Bowyer.

    Gordon has improved tremendously on 1.5-mile tracks of late, however, and is always good at Bristol and Richmond. History says he'll be OK, but who'd have ever thought he'd be an afterthought at a road course?

  • Change is in the air: Kenseth's 12th-place run at Watkins Glen pushed him back into the Chase 12, booting Clint Bowyer and thus marking the seventh consecutive week the top-12 list has seen change. Kenseth, who averages a ninth-place finish at Michigan during his career, stands to make up more ground this weekend. At present, nine drivers are fighting for seven spots in the Chase.

  • Raganomics: Road courses have kicked young David Ragan in the pants in 2008. He did improve 14 positions throughout the day at Sonoma, from 38th to 24th, but a 30th-place finish Sunday at Watkins Glen resulted in 43 points lost to 12th place in the RTTC. Michigan and California may save him, however. He finished eighth at MIS in June and California has similar tendencies.

  • The Closer: To clinch a spot in the Chase, a driver would need a 586-point lead over 13th place leaving Michigan. Currently, Kyle Busch holds a 648-point lead over 13th, so he should lock up a Chase spot Sunday -- even if he were to sit out the final three races of the RTTC.

Marty,

Huge Bobby Labonte fan since his Gibbs days, and I'm worried about my man. That wreck at Watkins Glen was nasty. How is he doing, and what did he have to say about the accident?

-- Sheryl Gaston, Corpus Christi, Texas

Labonte is thanking the good Lord he's not injured, Sheryl. That was a wicked hit for him, and for David Gilliland and Sam Hornish, too. Fortunately they all escaped unscathed.

We hear a lot about how awful the new car is. Every week drivers complain that they can't pass in it, that it won't turn and that the competition stinks. But when a guy suffers a hit like Labonte took, suddenly it ain't so bad.

"I'm probably as guilty as anyone of not giving NASCAR enough credit for all of the safety initiatives they have introduced to our sport in the last five years," Labonte said. "I'll tell you, all it takes is to be involved in an accident like we had at the end of the race at Watkins Glen to send you a reminder."

Typically, the "Big One" is reserved for NASCAR's superspeedways -- Daytona and Talladega -- where even the slightest miscue by a driver can result in 15 racecars wadded-up in a pile of crinkled sheet metal and smoldering tempers.

You don't often see those types of wrecks on road courses. But that corner at Watkins Glen is a fast one, and a lot can happen in a hurry. Labonte bore the brunt of that wreck, and afterward praised the safety of NASCAR's new ride.

"There is no doubt that this is the safest racecar in the world," he said. "We don't think of road courses as places where hard wrecks like that can occur. Everything in the car worked like it was designed to do. I appreciate NASCAR bringing safety to the forefront and keeping it there."

Marty,

Richard Childress originally planned to release all its details (driver, crew chief, paint job, etc.) about the No. 33 car in July, but has yet to do so. What's the deal?

-- Paul, Toledo, Ohio

It's rather simple, Paul: they couldn't find a driver. I asked Jeff Burton at Watkins Glen his thoughts on why it was taking so long.

Clint Bowyer
Racer X ArchivesClint Bowyer, second in this photo racing a dirt bike at age 6, has a little history with the No. 33.

"It has taken way longer than I would have ever anticipated," Burton said. "In retrospect, it's kind of the name of the game right now because of limited sponsors, limited teams. That means less opportunity. We've struggled in nailing down a fourth driver. There's a lot of reasons for that. I'm really proud of what we're doing at RCR and I think when people come to see what we're doing I think the drivers are excited about it, too.

"But we haven't been able to nail that down and that's been a surprise to me that we couldn't get that done quicker than we've been able to get it done. It's kind of a mystery to me why we haven't been able to."

Garage speculation -- and even some published reports -- claims Casey Mears will move from Hendrick to Childress and drive the No. 07 Chevrolet, thereby moving Clint Bowyer over to the No. 33.

Mears stressed to reporters Sunday at Watkins Glen that nothing is signed, and that in the past he's had a propensity to get too excited too early about future prospects, and ultimately was forced to explain why they didn't happen. Therefore he's taking an overly cautious approach this time.

I'm told by sources close to Mears that he refuses to join any team that must qualify for races via Friday time trials. He can't chance missing races early in the year. He needs a guaranteed safety net entering the season. He's weighing organizational potential and stability.

Quick back story on Bowyer and the No. 33  it was the number on his bike when, at 6, he won his first national moto in 1988.

Marty,

Will Reed Sorenson be back at Chip Ganassi Racing next year?

-- Dylan, Jacksonville, Fla.

I think so, Dylan. Sorenson is largely evasive on the subject.

He said Tuesday that they're "working on [a new contract] pretty hard and we'll see what we can come up with pretty soon."

I'd be surprised if he was in a different car next year.

Marty,

GREAT story on Dinger! I couldn't believe it when I saw your story -- it's about time someone gave him some credit. I've always really liked AJ's style since CART. On to my question. Do you have an update on his future at Red Bull yet? Do you think the team will keep him or go with Scott Speed? Thanks.

-- Shiloh Paulson, Columbus, Ohio

They'd be insane not to keep A.J. Allmendinger, Shiloh, and I think they realize that. As was noted in last week's piece -- Red Bull loves Scott Speed. His brashness is precisely what the company wants to exude: 'We're good. We know it. Get on the train or get out of the way.'

But Red Bull has a lot invested in Allmendinger and this business is ultimately fueled by on-track results. So in my estimation he has solidified his place in Cup -- especially since crew chief Jimmy Elledge showed up -- by finishing 10th at Indy, 19th at Pocono and 11th at The Glen.

But Red Bull hasn't yet contacted Allmendinger about his contract. Many other teams have expressed interest in the past week, but Red Bull hasn't called.

Truth told, Allmendinger is one of the season's most impressive stories. He failed to qualify for the first three races of the season, falling so deep outside the top 35 it appeared the team was out of answers and his job was in question.

He used the benching to learn, and came back in the season's ninth race at Talladega, Ala. At that point the No. 84 team was 40th in owner points, 111 points outside the threshold of a guaranteed starting position. In other words -- no perceived chance to make up the difference.

It got worse. Following a 42nd-place finish at Daytona in July, the No. 84 team was 200 points out of 35th. Just four races later, that deficit is gone, and Allmendinger is in the top 35 for the first time -- ever.

Song of the week: "If You're Reading This (I'm Already Home)" by Tim McGraw.

God Bless the troops. Never forget them, folks. Pray for them. Thank them. Tell them you appreciate them.

That's my time this week. I detoured to the Jersey Shore after Watkins Glen for 44 hours of family time, and my son wants to go to Storybook Land. A $60 stroll by The Three Little Bears and the Old Lady in the Shoe beckons. See y'all in the Irish Hills.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.