More is less with Dale Jr., Mears

Published 9:26 pm Saturday, April 25, 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, resulting in the six-race probation. 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 of two other Cup drivers who 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 which should be easily in the top 10.

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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 have 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. Now Mears is in 22nd and hasn’t been a threat all season.

The guy who was supposed to be in this position was Bowyer, who took over a new car and a new team at RCR. But Bowyer is solidly sixth in the points standings. It seems 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.

Childress has already started the shake-up. He switched the crew chiefs of Mears’ team and Kevin Harvick’s team. And he vowed more changes if that didn’t work. The next change will be taking Mears out of the ride.

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.