Lucky dog

Published 10:54 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH — Once there was Ironhead.

Sunday there was his boy: Bonehead.

It was The Not So Great American Race, soggy and sullen. Mr. Excitement, Matt Kenseth, won the first Daytona 380 as rain hit the high banks. Yellow flag, red flag, checkered flag. It was all wet. But another name was wetter.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the talk of the 500 again, but for all the wrong reasons. You see, the all-popular Junior was all wrong Sunday. He made the wreck that wrecked the field and went on his merry way.


It didn’t do a thing.

It’s good to be Junior.

Earnhardt didn’t know where his pit box was most of the day, but like a spoiled brat he managed to find Brian Vickers’ rear on the 124th lap.

Earnhardt was a lap down and trying to get back on the lead lap when he came up on Vickers, also a lap down and, like Earnhardt, trying to be moved to the front at the next caution. It’s a NASCAR deal called the “Lucky Dog.”

Vickers blocked Earnhardt. That’s racing.

So Junior, driven down below the yellow, roared up and into Vickers, who spun out and into Kyle Busch, who only had the best car of the day, all part of a 10-car wreck. Junior says he did it by accident.

Lucky Dog? Try Low-Down Dog.

I’m not saying Dale Jr. isn’t a decent guy most days. I’m not saying Vickers is a sympathetic figure. Three years ago at Talladega, Vickers wrecked Jimmie Johnson on the way to his only NASCAR victory.

But Junior is coddled.

Sunday showed just how much.

He should have been penalized. NASCAR should have taken action, like the five-lap penalty it gave Jason Leffler on Saturday in a Nationwide race for doing the exact kind of thing Earnhardt did.

Only his name was Leffler, not Earnhardt.

“I guess they’re not going to penalize him for it,” Vickers said. “It’s kind of sad. To wreck someone intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous.”

“Penalize me?” Earnhardt said. “For what? I got ran into and sent below the line. What the hell am I supposed to do? Stay down there? No, I got to get back up on the racetrack. It was unfortunate, man. If he wasn’t so damn reckless, we would have never had that problem, that would never happen. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all his responsibility.”

Fox TV star Darrell Waltrip initially said Junior was in the wrong, but later, realizing he’d told the truth, Waltrip began boogity boogity backpedaling and soon everyone in the booth was in their normal position as Junior apologists.

Earnhardt had been Bonehead all day, with some help from his crew. He missed his pit box on one stop. He later parked an inch or so outside it on another and was penalized a lap. A cheap one, but it was no justification for a steamed Earnhardt going out and messing with Vickers. I guess that’s Junior’s idea of a makeup call.

Maybe it’s something his daddy would have done, though maybe Daddy wouldn’t have done it from the front of the field. Oh, and another thing: Junior isn’t his daddy.

He has won a Daytona 500 and 17 other Sprint Cup races and finished as high as third in points. But he didn’t make the big splash last season when he moved to Hendrick Motorsports, winning only once and fading to 12th after making The Chase. When is this guy going to be a points champion? Probably never. Why bother? He’s already the most popular everything in his sport. That fact came in quite handy in this race.

Busch was knocked out of the race in the wreck. Junior wasn’t.

A little later, he was the first car a lap down when another caution came out.

Finally, he was the Lucky Dog.

I say hold the Lucky, at least on Sunday.