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Remember Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Well, it's Richmond, and his kind of track.....maybe finally some magic in the works?

  Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't had much to talk about this season....maybe he can surprise everyone Saturday night (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Well, for Dale Earnhardt Jr. it's been wait-till-next-year for most of the summer.
   Earnhardt didn't make the championship chase. Heck, he has only won one tour event in three years. And that crew chief shuffle back in the late spring, well, it's only sort of worked.
   Earnhardt should have won Michigan straight up three weeks ago; crew chief Lance McGrew put him in the perfect position at the end. But Earnhardt wound up only third.
   Still, that's a start.
   Or is it.
   Has Junior Nation given up on him?
   Every time it looks like Earnhardt is on the verge of a breakout, things just go flat.
   Richmond International Raceway – where Earnhardt last won flat out, back in the spring of 2006 – should be a good place for Earnhardt and McGrew.
   But they'll be playing in the shadows, because this is the last race before the Sprint Cup championship chase, opening next weekend at Loudon, N.H., and only four men are locked into the title run, leaving more than half a dozen looking to make the playoff cut. And the men on that list of wannabees are all neck-and-neck going into Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400.
   Of course it's all but a foregone conclusion that either Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon will win this championship. The rest, they're not even playing for second place, it seems.
   Kyle Busch, 14th in the standings at the moment but who should make the cut, based on his past performance here, is the one man who could upset the Hendrick threesome.
   But the rest of the bunch, well, one of them could provide a surprise, but it's highly unlikely. We've had more than seven months to judge each of them and their teams, and no one else quite measures up to the Hendrick gang.
   Can anyone stop the Rick Hendrick juggernaut?
   If Hendrick wins yet another championship, will NASCAR change the rules, as it did when rival Jack Roush's Matt Kenseth ran away to the 2003 title…and as it did when Jack Roush had the temerity to put five teams in the playoffs?
   Yes, Hendrick has some of the best drivers on the tour, of course. And Chevy stuff is pretty strong (even Richard Childress' guys appear to be starting to get with it).
   But, hey, Toyota's Denny Hamlin, the closest rival to the Hendrick-powered guys is almost 400 points down. And everyone else who will make the playoffs is well over 500 points down.
   That's parity?
   Yes, NASCAR resets the standings at midnight Saturday night, with the top-12 essentially rezeroed. Still, it's hard to image all three of the Hendrick-engineered front-runners collapsing down the stretch. If anything, Johnson and Gordon tend to kick it into a higher gear.
   Beating Hendrick this fall? Forget it.
   So the question may be what should NASCAR do for next year's chase? How about a new 'home run' rule, so that a driver can hit a home run by winning a race? Say, a 100-point bonus. The problem now, as it's been for years, is that a driver – consider Carl Edwards last Sunday at Atlanta – can lost as much as 150 points in a single race….but even with a dominating victory the following week, that driver might only pick up 15 or 20 points. The risk-reward ratio is out-of-whack.
   NASCAR also – looking ahead to bringing Danica Patrick on-board, and bringing in new rookies (Joey Logano should have been the trigger here) – should reopen testing. The rich teams can test anywhere they want to, and in secret. Check the balance of power in NASCAR this season and consider.
   So, reopen testing – and do it at the real Sprint Cup tour tracks, and with the real race tires.
   And add that home run rule.




Junior at Richmond

His last win at Richmond was the spring race in 2006. Since then his average finish has been 17th. His last win 2 years ago was a fuel mileage race that ended under caution and featured Junior passing the pace car 3 times while coasting with the engine shut off to conserve fuel, a rules violation that went unenforced. We'll see what Saturday night brings.

Does your idea of giving an extra 100 points for a win apply to the entire season or just the chase? Would the points still be reset for the final 10 races? What was wrong with running the entire season with the "regular" points system and whoever had the most points at the end of the last race win the championship? All the manipulation in the world does not assure that 12 teams have a chance for the title on the last lap of the last race. The team that had the best YEAR should be rewarded. We should all pay our money and take our chances. If that is not exciting enough for the "fan", they should find another sport to follow.

DANICA IS COMING!!!!!! Lets start changing all the rules that will hinder her from being successful.

the 100 points -- I'm

the 100 points -- I'm thinking for every race....because if a man can lose 150 points in a single race, he should have some way to make that back up, and not just by nickle-and-diming his way over several months....What do you think?

Junior At Richmond - Part 2

Junior finished 21st in Richmond last night, four positions worse than his recent average of 17th. The media can now proceed with the story line: "Now that the distraction of the Chase is over for Junior, he can now focus on winning races." After Homestead, they can use: "With the lessons learned during the 2009 season logged into their notebooks, the 88 team is poised to make a run at the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship." Hey, he's the most popular driver, right? You have got to keep writing stuff about him, don't you? Or is it he's the most popular driver BECAUSE you guys keep writing stuff about him. But don't worry, you can also have Danica Patrick Jr. to write about for the rest of this year and years to come. Please accept my apology for the cynical nature of this message, but I've had it with the Junior promotion and the coming Danica promotion. I've just not been able to cope with the fact that what I've loved for 45 years is not a sport but a business marketing platform.

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