Heading into Kansas this weekend,
Who would have predicted that two years after leaving his father's former company, the sport's most popular driver would be helping other drivers more than he's helping himself? Yet that's exactly what's happening as we'll point out in this little game of "What if?," which shows how that one simple move changed the current complexion of the sport -- and left Junior worse off statistically than ever before.
Let's look at the dominoes first. Consider what would have happened had Earnhardt chosen a different path and re-signed with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., in early 2007:
• When DEI merged with Ginn Racing in the middle of that summer,
• Meanwhile, with DEI remaining a viable organization,
Also consider the Ganassi-Earnhardt merger forced a switch to Chevrolet, along with the research, development and ECR engines that came with it. The organization had struggled along with Dodge the last few seasons, and Montoya has clearly benefited from the handling package already in place from the second DEI engineers came on board.
• Finally, with Earnhardt taking control of DEI, the Budweiser sponsorship would have stuck with a pitchman seemingly tailor-made for their company. That would have left Kahne and the No. 9 car searching for sponsorship back then or forced to go with Dodge for one more year (2008). And considering Dodge's financial problems, where would that have left its most promising driver if their funding dried up? Probably with Joe Gibbs Racing, as they'd have no one in line to replace
Remember, a Junior re-signing with DEI would have kept
The list goes on and on, a line of about two years' worth of deals triggered by the sport's most marketable driver spurning the "evil" stepmother in a public family drama. But while Earnhardt was supposed to be the victor, he has yet to receive any of the spoils. In his final two years with DEI, he scored one win, 17 top 5s, 29 top 10s, and one Chase appearance. That's more than the one win, 12 top 5s, 21 top 10s, and one Chase over nearly the same period with Hendrick.
It's a tough story for another day, a man who went with his head but instead may be secretly harboring a broken heart. With Earnhardt all but forgotten amidst five Hendrick-supported cars in the Chase, you wonder if he thinks back on whether he made the right decision.
But rest assured there are plenty of people happy in its wake.
• The reason people are writing this week the Chase is
So why are people not giving Martin the credit he deserves? Simple: the 50-year-old has had so much bad luck throughout his career, he could get struck by lightning on pit road and no one would so much as bat an eyebrow. Nobody can consider him a serious contender until he gets through Talladega ("the lotto," as he likes to call it) with a better than 40th place finish.
Should Johnson win as expected, the only hope for the rest of the field is that someone overaggressive (Montoya?) makes a statement by beating the No. 48 at an intermediate track while "rattling his cage" a bit and roughing him up on the track. Someone, somewhere has to rattle Johnson's confidence; otherwise, that fourth title is in the bag as long as luck stays on his side.
• Buzz around the garage at Dover was that
That leaves Stremme,