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Gas mileage gamble costs Jr. this time

Dale Earnhardt Jr. last won a race at Michigan back in June by playing the gas mileage game. The gamble to win on gas mileage and strategy cost Junior a solid finish last week at Watkins Glen. By playing the odds, and losing, Junior finished 22nd in the race and fell two spots in the standings to fourth.

Junior will never be confused with a great road course racer, but last Sunday, he seemed to have the car to beat. While leading a race-high 33 laps, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. decided to stay on the track as most of the other lead cars were pitting under green flag conditions. The decision proved to be a bad one, as a few laps later, the caution flag flew and Junior pitted under caution while 32 lead cars stayed on the track.

Junior rallied back in the closing laps to finish a better than expected 22nd, helped by a wicked crash coming into turn 11 that took out nine cars late in the race. Eury opened himself up to tremendous conjecture and criticism with the gutsy, or stupid, call, but he was trying to win the race. There is something to be said for stepping up and taking chances to win.

Oh, by the way, Kyle Busch won the race, his eighth win of the year. Considering his points lead and the 10 bonus points earned for each win, Busch all but assured himself the top seed going into the Chase after Richmond. There is much racing left, and who knows what will happen during the 10-race Chase stretch, but I simply don’t see anyone beating Busch for the championship.

The official announcement was made Friday that Ryan Newman will pilot the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. This move has been speculated for weeks and has probably been a done deal for weeks. Sponsors were not named during the announcement, but don’t count on the UPS brown being on Newman’s new ride.

UPS’ exit from Michael Waltrip Racing was decided long ago, and one of the richest and most prestigious sponsorships was up for grabs. Richard Childress Racing, Penske, Gillett Evernham and Stewart Haas all had been mentioned as potential homes for UPS’ deep financial backing. It looks now that UPS will not sponsor one team, but a whole series.

Craftsman is leaving as the title sponsor of the truck series, and UPS is the leading candidate to take over the naming rights. What a no-brainer. For a company that built its whole marketing campaign around “driving the truck,” this is an ideal situation. And knowing UPS’ reputation, you’ll see many new and exciting aspects to the truck series.

The series moves from an 11-turn road course in Watkins Glen to an ultra-fast two-mile oval at Michigan International Speedway. Teams like to perform well in the shadows of Motown, where the major manufacturers are headquartered. The Fords of Roush Fenway Racing have always been solid here, and I don’t see that changing this week. My pick to win the race is Matt Kenseth.