Yes, the local favorite NASCAR driver rides into today’s Aaron’s 499 on a 100-race winless streak, the longest of his 12-year career, but signs point to a breakthrough.
He’s sixth in the Sprint Cup points this season. Seven races in, he’s finished no worse than 12th.
The pairing with Steve Letarte, Jeff Gordon’s old crew chief, seems be just the ticket for the top-ticket driver at Talladega.
But more positive than any other sign pointing toward a Junior breakthrough is the fact that Junior sounds so negative. Take his own take on racing at Talladega as we know it today.
“I think everybody is the same. Everybody’s cars are the same,” he said Saturday.
Same as Daytona or overall?
“Overall. It’s a matter of however you push, and I don’t know,” he said. “They’re all the same, and you just get out there an push somebody around the race track.”
So, Junior, you don’t care where you qualify?
“No. Nothing is important about it other than picking pits and just getting a good stall,” he said.
We take it, then, that you prefer the old big draft.
“I don’t really like the two-car stuff,” he said. “It’s, I don’t know, just silly.”
Earnhardt fans who remember his late father well are probably smiling right now, because Junior is sounding a lot like his old man headed into a Talladega race.
Those were the good old days, when the late Dale Earnhardt used to bemoan restrictor-plate racing. The cars were choked, and the best man had to find a new way to win.
“That ain’t racin’,” he always said.
Thing was, Junior’s dad had a way of finding a way. He was among the best at the very kind of racing he said ain’t racin’.
Who can forget how Dale Earnhardt could supposedly “see the air” and master the draft?
Those who remember could “see the air” as the guy who turned Talladega into “Daleadega” grumbled about racing on the track, and one can see the air as his son chaffes at the modern version.
“It is not as good as 40 dudes in one pack racin’ like hell, tryin’ to get to the front,” Junior said. “It is nowhere near as good as that. Give me that any day over this.”
Yep, that sounds a lot like the late Dale Earnhardt before one of his Daleadega masterpieces, and Junior knows a thing or two about winning here. It’s been a while, but he has five wins at Talladega, more than he has on any other track.
Given his history at Talladega and his apparent resurgence this season, it’s not hard to see him at the point of a two-car push to the finish line.
Given the all-too-familiar Dale Earnhardt surliness about it all, it’s not hard to see Junior in victory lane here today.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.