Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Earnhardt Revenue, Blown Engines & Rough Road Courses

If Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win did so much for the sport, what if he doesn’t keep it up — starting this weekend?

For once, the storyline hasn’t been Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick or literally anyone else. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win set off a storm surge in the world of sports and was arguably the most anticipated moment in the last four years.

Racetracks jumped on the opportunity, with tracks like Texas Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway using the win as a marketing tool. Ticket sales and NASCAR merchandise spiked the Monday following his victory (June 18).

See also
Bowles-Eye View: NASCAR’s Power of Earnhardt - Can Junior Command Attention Now?

To say the least, Junior sells. But what happens from here on out?

The very storyline that NASCAR needed so much has finally happened. But if this momentum doesn’t carry on through the rest of the season, it’s not likely to continue that way. A society dominated by short attention spans and professional football won’t keep these numbers elevated if Earnhardt’s numbers don’t stay that way either, starting this weekend in Sonoma.

However, the numbers indicate that isn’t going to happen. In 12 starts at Sonoma, Earnhardt has never finished inside the top 10.

I’m not saying that one poor finish is going to sink the sport. What I am saying is that this can’t become another shot in the dark victory that turns into another long winless drought if anyone expects this newfound excitement for the sport (at least for Junior Nation) to stick around.

Can Kyle Busch recover from three blown engines?

Speaking of Sonoma, there aren’t many drivers who could use it more than Kyle Busch. Three consecutive blown engines, two of which were at tracks that are known for engine issues, have Busch in a hole. While Sonoma has some challenges of its own, blown engines aren’t normally at the top of the list and Busch already has a victory at the first road course on the schedule.

Even with the recent failures, however, Busch is still 12th in points and has plenty of time to get back inside the top 10. At the very least, a wildcard should be attainable for that No. 18 team.

There’s a “brother’s blown temper” joke in here somewhere, but we here at Frontstretch just don’t stoop to that level.

Why have road courses become the new short track?

It used to be that fans looked towards Bristol and Martinsville for some good ol’ fashioned beating, banging and temper tantrums. Now they just look to Kurt Busch!

OK, that was a cheap shot. In all seriousness, road courses are almost a replacement for the tamer versions of short tracks. Last year at Sonoma, there were more angry drivers in the garage area than at Bristol. In Road America, you’d be hard pressed to find a car without a dent, scratch or donut on the sheetmetal — or on the egos of their drivers.

I didn’t personally used to be a big fan of road courses. The slower speeds and winding tracks would drive me bonkers and I was always happy when they were over and done with on the schedule. However, since the advent of double-file restarts and a more level playing field, they have become some of the most exciting races on the schedule … in my opinion anyway. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.

Regardless of Edwards’s denial, can he recover from this runner-up slump?

I won’t blame mechanical issues and a little bit of bad luck on this “slump,” but Carl Edwards has been sorely lacking on the performance end. Sure, his eight top 10s through 15 races this year might look good (not great) on paper, but not when a lack of victories is what took the Sprint Cup Series trophy out of his hands in 2011.

Edwards has denied over and over that there is a chip on his shoulder from last year and that it is at all affecting his performance. He might be right … but he also might be full of it. This slump hasn’t become legend in the sport because people like to talk out of their ass.

People talk about it because, well, these drivers are only human and to come so close to a dream of theirs only to have it taken away like that has to weigh on their minds. I can’t imagine it doesn’t impact the way they operate at the racetrack, even at a subconscious level.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edwards start picking up the pace a little bit later in the season, but I doubt he’s going to get back to championship level before the end of 2012. Maybe 2013.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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