Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains in good position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but hasn’t been able to find the winning touch in 2013.
Fortunately for him, the Cup circus returns to Michigan this weekend, where his most recent victory took place last season.
Earnhardt was a threat to win at the fast, two-mile oval back in mid-June but lost his engine on Lap 131 on a day where he and the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp suffered. But he’s optimistic that he can get right back to the front in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
“We’re working real hard – [a win] could come any weekend,” Earnhardt said Monday according to the Associated Press. “We’re going to Michigan this weekend and feel like it’s a place we can succeed at. Obviously, it’s the place where we won our last two races at [2008, 2012].
“We just anticipate it happening any week and go in every week with the attitude that we can be competitive and win the race, and we’ve been pretty strong all season, so the confidence is high.”
NASCAR’s most popular driver shot out of the gates this season with a streak of five consecutive Top-10 runs that put him atop the Cup standings. Since then, he’s quietly maintained a spot in the Top 10 of the championship but has yet to become a regular contender for wins.
Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen didn’t help matters. A late crash that saw Earnhardt slam into a spinning Kasey Kahne as part of a six-car pileup relegated NASCAR’s most popular driver to a 30th-place finish.
Earnhardt slipped to sixth in the championship as a result, but on Monday, he maintained his belief that he’ll still be racing for his first Cup title come September.
“We had a good car and was real happy how the car ran [at the Glen],” he said. “You can’t do much with the luck we had, but we are looking pretty good as far as making the Chase and feel pretty confident that we’re going to be able to do that.”
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.