While Junior’s finish at Charlotte was disappointing, it was no Indianapolis heartbreak

[media-credit name=”Greg Author” align=”alignright” width=”229″][/media-credit]Dale Earnhardt Jr. came within one straightaway of rediscovering Victory Lane for the first time since he used pit strategy to win one at Michigan in June, 2008. Was it disappointing? Damn right. Was it a shock? Not exactly, as my wife’s chant of “have enough gas” on that final lap reminded me. Junior’s car sputtered then shut off as he fell from first to seventh within sight of the checkered flag in the World 600, allowing Kevin Harvick to claim his 17th career win, and third of the season.

Even Harvick had to know he had a shot, despite the lead Junior had built up. He, Junior, my wife, you and I all knew it. It was a case of too bad, too sad, and off to Kansas we go. That was not the case in the Indianapolis 500 where 23-year old rookie J.R. Hildebrand was all by his lonesome, with a four second lead over Dan Wheldon, when he passed a lapped car on the final corner. As we had seen more than once that day, a pass there could send one up in the marbles and into the wall. He wasn’t the first to do so, just the last, within sight of the checkered flag. Wheldon wins his second jug of milk, beating the team that let him go after last season, beating the guy who had replaced him, leaving Panther Racing with its fourth straight bridesmaid finish.

Junior’s fans might be disappointed, but while he was in a Top Five car this was a win he was trying to steal. At most, he lost a couple of points in making the gamble. Hildebrand made a million dollar mistake, or more, and while he still finished second, his car was also finished in the end. Still, we all make mistakes. Carl Edwards made one spinning through the grass after his all-star win the previous weekend in Charlotte. Mind you, his mistake in wrecking that car came immediately after winning his boss a million dollar pay day. A guy can be forgiven for that. Wrecking in the final turn all by yourself just prior to laying claim to the Indianapolis 500 is another thing, though being a young rookie who came so very close to victory should buy him some forgiveness, too.

Two last lap leaders in two of motor sports biggest races on this continent who both fell short. One will be talked about for weeks, then forgotten. One will be talked about for years, and should ABC’s Wide World of Sports ever make a return to the airwaves, we got ourselves a new video to showcase the agony of defeat.

Now, for NASCAR types, Kansas is calling. Earnhardt has never won there, but Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Greg Biffle all have…twice. The Biff, who had himself quite the irritating day at Charlotte before escaping with a 13th place finish, won in Kansas last fall as this event moves way up in the schedule to this spring.

Sunday also marks the end of NASCAR on FOX for the season. TNT’s coverage begins at Pocono, to be followed by ESPN/ABC starting with Indianapolis. I wish I could tell you about the exciting changes in their broadcast team lineup for this season. I really wish there were some to talk about. Well, at least we still have Kansas. Enjoy your week!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


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