July 5, 2011
By Doug Demmons
Danica Patrick had a blast.
Junior just let loose with one.
After more than a year of occasional forays into stock-car racing, Patrick had never looked like she was comfortable competing in a Nationwide car.
But on Friday at Daytona it looked like she finally belonged.
Patrick had her best race since she decided to try NASCAR in 2010. It wasn’t her best finish but it was by far her best race.
With the help of a fast car from JR Motorsports and helpful push-mates in Tony Stewart and Aric Almirola, Patrick had a decent shot at becoming NASCAR’s first-ever female winner. She was leading with five laps to go.
At the end, Mike Wallace moved up in front of her, triggering the big final lap wreck.
But even then, she was having way too much fun.
"I kept my foot in it, which might not be the best thing here, but I was going for broke," she said after she crashed across the finish line in 10th. "I learned a lot, that’s for sure."
Contrast that with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who now apparently takes no joy at racing at two of his best tracks -- Daytona and Talladega.
Junior cut loose with a post-race tirade starting with how Jamie McMurray wrecked him at the end of Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 to the whole "foolish" idea of two-car tandem racing.
"I don't know," he said when asked what happened to separate him and Jimmie Johnson as the 48 came down pit road. "I'm driving my car, doing what I am told and they decided to do something different. I can't run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car. I'm just doing what I'm told out there. I don't know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn't. It was just a foolish race. I don't know. I don't know what to say. I don't know."
And then he had a few suggestions for those asking him questions.
"You guys need to get your own opinions and write what you all think about it," he said. "I think it is probably pretty damn close to mine. Stop putting my damn mouth with y'all and getting my (butt) in trouble. Y'all write what y'all think, man. Come on, y'all are good. Y'all have an opinion about it. I read y'all's stuff. You put us in the damn crow's nest."
It’s easy to understand Junior’s frustration. Plate tracks have been his bread and butter. Seven of his 18 career wins have come at Talladega and Daytona.
But times and circumstances have changed since those days and Junior is going to have to change with them.
NASCAR isn’t about to legislate an end to push-drafting. The last time they tried to do that at Talladega there was a fan revolt.
And it will be several more years before the new pavement at Talladega and Daytona becomes rough enough to make push-drafting too dangerous.
Junior is just going to have to adapt.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.