Will one last chance be enough to save Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

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For Dale Earnhardt Jr., it’s all come down to this:

One or done.

Or to put it in more succinct terms, win or done.

As Junior prepares to head to Talladega in a few days, he’s in perhaps the most desperate time of his 15-year Sprint Cup career.

Tied for last in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, with teammate Jimmie Johnson no less, the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers are on the verge of elimination.

They both have to win at Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round – but only one can wind up in Victory Lane.

Sure, mathematically, Earnhardt and Johnson still have chances of advancing to the next round after Talladega without a win, but it will take a lot of luck for them and misfortune for the other 12 Chase drivers to see that possibility realized — two distinct things that you simply can’t count on in the unpredictable world of NASCAR.

Junior has enjoyed his best season in nearly a decade. With three wins, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 triumph, he’s driven like he did in his early days at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

But somehow, some way, Earnhardt has slipped, fallen and plummeted in the last two races. Starting the Contender Round in a 12-way tie for first place, he’s dropped like a rock to the bottom of the Chase ocean.

And now he’s heading back to Talladega, where at one point early in his career he was so successful and victorious with five wins that fans started to call it TallaDalega.

But Junior’s last win on the 2.66-mile high-banked track was a decade ago, ironically enough, in fall of 2004 – just like this weekend.

Since then, Junior has competed 19 more times at ‘Dega with just three top-fives and three other top-10s.

There have been no wins, although he did come close in this race last season, finishing runner-up.

While as a journalist, you’re not supposed to have favorites, as a race fan I can’t help but feel sorry for Earnhardt’s plight.

This was supposed to be THE season for Junior. After winning Daytona, the year just had a different feel.

And for perhaps the first time in Earnhardt’s career, he had himself and his fans believing that this would finally be the year he’d earn that elusive first Sprint Cup championship.

There were other incentives as well. He was turning 40 (did so this past Friday) and to show his appreciation for all the things that crew chief Steve Letarte had done for him in the last three seasons, Junior was bound and determined to send Letarte out as a winner.

(Letarte will leave Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to become a full-time NASCAR analyst for NBC.)

How has THE season, the long hoped for season, the one where Junior was going to channel Larry The Cable Guy and “Git ‘er done,” suddenly fallen apart so badly?

How heartbroken will the Junior Nation be if their favorite driver – and the most popular driver the last 11 seasons – fails to seal what looked like it was a sure thing, it was meant to be?

Two things will happen at Talladega. Either Junior wins there and the place and NASCAR and the sport go crazy in response, or he leaves there having come so close, only to fall short once again.

In a season where many felt it was Junior’s destiny to finally win the Cup crown, to come so close only to fall short, perhaps the actual reality is that maybe being a Sprint Cup champ will never be meant to be for Junior.

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X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.