Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wrong Call

Kyle Busch earning his eighth Sprint Cup win of the season Sunday at Watkins Glen is, ultimately, of little consequence; that tends to happen when winning becomes so commonplace, back-to-back finishes of 15th and 36th counts as a slump. The fact that Busch locked up the top seed once the Chase for the Cup starts in five races is also, at the end of the day, neither surprising nor particularly compelling.

What I prefer to focus on is the guy who finished 22nd: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior, who has never won a road course race at the Cup level, was strong on Sunday, starting second and taking the lead from Busch on lap 2. Junior led twice for 33 laps and had a car that at worst could've finished in the top five, but poor pit strategy relegated Junior to a 22nd-place finish, dropping him from second to fourth in the points.

Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. has taken some heat this season for being too conservative and possibly costing Junior a race or two. It got to the point where before Junior won the June race at Michigan on fuel mileage, some fans were calling for Eury's job.

Expect those calls to start up again after Eury kept Junior on the track for too long on Sunday, leaving him out when everyone else was pitting for fuel. A lap 64 caution bit Junior, and he was just one of two lead-lap cars to put under the yellow, because everyone else had already been down under green.

It was actually the second time in the race Junior waited a good two or three laps after everyone else to pit, but because the first run stayed under green, it didn't matter much. But Eury's decision to leave Junior on the race track as long as possible -- even as Junior was losing a second per lap to second-place Busch -- kept Junior from contending.

Would Junior have won without the pit miscue? Hard to say, but his chances of finishing in the top five were much better.

I realize the last time Junior and Eury split, in 2004, was a disaster. The two, as cousins, have a chemistry that's hard to come by in the Sprint Cup garage, but I can't help but wonder if owner Rick Hendrick might consider making a change before 2009 if things continue.

After all, Darian Grubb has shown on more than one occasion he can be a capable Sprint Cup crew chief. If I'm Eury, I might be looking over my shoulder a little bit.

Quick Shout-Out

A.J. Allmendinger deserves some credit for the way he's been running in recent weeks -- specifically, since Jimmy Elledge came on board as his crew chief. Since Elledge came on board at Chicago, Allmendinger has posted four straight top-20 finishes -- including an 11th-place run Sunday at Watkins Glen.

Allmendinger also posted a career-best 10th at the Brickyard two weeks ago. The recent run of success has catapulted the No. 84 Red Bull team to within the Top 35 in owner points -- which means Allmendinger is guaranteed a starting spot in next week's race in Michigan.

Though rumors persist Allmendinger might not return next season -- the ride could go to Scott Speed, who's progressing nicely through both ARCA and the Craftsman Truck Series -- the former Champ Car star might just be figuring out stock cars.

Which would make it a shame if Allmendinger found himself looking for a ride next season.

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