Season keeps getting worse for Earnhardt, Mears

Published 9:16 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

One of the few instances of NASCAR doling out penalties and punishment this season came this week as a result of a spat at the end of the Phoenix race last weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears were both placed on probation for the next six races.

Late in the race, Mears tapped Junior, causing his car to spin into the wall. On the cool-down lap, Junior spun Mears, prompting a reaction from Mears on pit road. All of this nonsense caused NASCAR to throw the dreaded Section 12-4-A (Actions detrimental to stock car racing) rule at Junior and Mears. In essence, NASCAR looked the other way.

So far this season, these two drivers have more in common than just this penalty. I don’t know if any other Cup drivers have underachieved more in this young season than these two. Junior and Mears are sitting 19th and 22nd, respectively, in the points standings—and both are in cars that easily should be in the top-10.

Now, 19th and 22nd in the standings in the world’s most competitive racing series is nothing to sneeze at, if you aren’t driving for Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress.

In Junior’s case, I can’t remember a driver ever making more mistakes on pit road. There have been flashes of the old Junior at times this season, but then he shoots himself in the foot by missing his pit stall—twice. Those bone-headed moves combined with questionable decisions made from atop the pit box has led Junior to just two top-10 finishes through the first eight races.I am still of the opinion, despite the denials, that Tony Eury Jr. will not end the season as his cousin Junior’s crew chief. But, time is running out. History has proven that the top 12 in points at this stage in the season do not change very much before the last race at Richmond when the Chase field is set.

On Junior’s team, the crew chief takes the fall. In the case of Casey Mears, I believe the driver will take the fall. Mears took over the No. 07 Jack Daniels ride from Clint Bowyer, who made the Chase the prior two seasons. Not only did he get the seat, he got the entire team. And is now in 22nd and hasn’t been a threat all season.

The guy that was supposed to be in this position was Bowyer, who took over a new car and a new team at RCR. But Bowyer is a solid sixth in the points standings. It seems that Mears has gotten more strong rides than any mediocre driver ever. He came to RCR this season from Hendrick, where he piloted the No. 5 car. Mark Martin just won the race at Phoenix in that same car.

Talladega is next on the schedule this Sunday afternoon. Hendrick has won the last three races on the schedule, with three different drivers. Can Junior, or another Hendrick driver, continue the streak? Will Tony Stewart earn his first win as an owner? My pick to win Sunday is the aforementioned Bowyer.