For NASCAR's most popular driver, the numbers are numbing. It's now been 43 races since
But it gets worse. Before winning in June 2008 at Michigan, which is where the Cup circuit stops on Sunday afternoon, Little E hadn't taken the checkers in 76 races. So if you combine those two streaks, Earnhardt has a total of one victory in his last 120 races. Heck, those two streaks stretch back so far that
"It's been a tough year, man," Earnhardt told reporters after his brakes went out last Sunday at Watkins Glen and he crashed hard into a barrier of tires and finished 39th. "I guess if I sat there and thought about all the bad things and got further down, it would just be a longer climb to get back."
Give Earnhardt credit for one thing: In spite of everything -- the crashes, the brain locks on pit road, the mechanical failures, and the unfathomable amount of bad racing luck he's encountered this season -- he's maintained a positive attitude. I was standing next to him before he hopped in his car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, and he joked and kidded around with me and a few others nearby as if he were leading the points, not stuck in 25th, which is where he is now. I haven't been told this, but I'm sure
The big question for this team now is this: Is
Clearly, McGrew and Earnhardt need more time to mesh and hone their communication skills -- i.e., McGrew needs to figure out what exactly Earnhardt means when he says the car is "wicked loose" in the entry of corner and what he needs to do the car to remedy the condition. McGrew also has been working overtime building brand new cars for Little E. And if you ask both of them point blank if the team is improving, they will swear it is, even if the results on the track haven't yet shown that. At this point, I think it would be a mistake for Hendrick to make another crew chief change this offseason; Earnhardt and McGrew need time to grow together and lay a solid foundation for 2010.
The question of the moment is this: Can Earnhardt end yet another winless streak at Michigan on Sunday? This race will probably come down to a game of fuel mileage like it did in June at Michigan when
But I like Martin to win at the two-mile oval. No one in the series has been better on flat tracks this year -- three of his series high four wins have come on low-banked tracks like Michigan -- and the fleet of Hendrick Chevys (minus Earnhardt's, that is) consistently have been the cars to beat this season on 1.5- and 2-mile tracks. Look for Martin and