Bump & Run: Is Daytona last true shot for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make playoffs?

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Kyle Petty, Slugger Labbe and Dale Jarrett join Leigh Diffey from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NASCAR America on NBCSN. Petty, Labbe, Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Dustin Long discuss this week’s hot topics.

Does Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway mark Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last true shot to win and make the playoffs?

Dale Jarrett: Certainly by what we’ve seen to this point, it would take something extraordinary for it to happen somewhere else. Even though they’ve run better. There’s nothing telling me that they’re at that point that they can go win one of these other races without pulling some type of strategy. Yes, I think that this is it. It’s going to take a win for him to make the playoffs. He’s going to have to make that push Saturday night.

Kyle Petty: I don’t believe it’s his last shot, but it may be his best shot. I say that not because he’s run well enough to win anywhere this year, they just seem to be a step behind everywhere. I say “best shot” because throughout his career he’s always stepped up at the “storybook, Hollywood script” moments to win. Can his last Daytona be another one of those moments? Yes. Will it? Only the Racing Gods know.

Slugger Labbe: Unfortunately I believe Daytona is the last opportunity (which a win at Daytona would be AWESOME) for Dale Jr. and the 88 team. We just haven’t seen the performance and confidence in this team to be perfect and on the same page on a given race weekend and being perfect is about what it takes to win.

Nate Ryan: The answer seemed yes … until Michigan and Sonoma. Those are Earnhardt’s first consecutive top 10s this season, and that is meaningful for a streaky driver who always has thrived on confidence and momentum. If he doesn’t break through at Daytona, don’t expect a win at Kentucky, New Hampshire or Indianapolis … but if the No. 88 can continue a string of solid finishes, it doesn’t seem out of the question that Earnhardt still could sneak into victory lane at Pocono, Michigan or Bristol.

Dustin Long: I agree with Kyle that a win by Dale Jr. this weekend would mark another one of those “storybook’’ triumphs, but I think he can win elsewhere. It just keeps popping into my head that a storybook moment would be for Dale Jr. to win at Indianapolis, a track Hendrick Motorsports has had much success. After Indy, though, his chances will be limited to a maybe a couple of tracks.

What has been the biggest surprise this season?

Dale Jarrett: How intense the racing is in the early and middle parts of these races. I knew that the stage racing was going to change things, but it’s really opened up something totally different to me. To sit and watch an entire race now and see drivers pressing hard and the crew chiefs making decisions at times to gather playoff or more points, whatever it is that they are looking for there, and then putting themselves in a position that they have to try to find their way back to the front to try to win the race. That’s something more from teams that have the luxury of doing that that have won races, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Kyle Petty: Too many surprises to name only one. First-time winners, drivers that haven’t won, Kurt Busch at Daytona, how much stage racing has changed how teams/crew chiefs/drivers race. After this coming weekend, I may have to add “see answer to question #1.”

Slugger Labbe: How stage racing has changed our sport for the better, between known cautions (stage ends) that require different strategies and limited tire allotments. There have been races that have been just downright hard to predict, what is right or wrong, until they throw the checkers, and also the effects of the playoff points that are rewarded for stage victories!!

Nate Ryan: That there are 11 winners representing eight teams through the first 16 races – and that none is from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t have guessed that Richard Childress Racing would have two wins and Roush Fenway Racing would have one victory while Joe Gibbs Racing remained winless with its driver lineup.

Kyle Busch is winless in his last 32 races, a streak that dates back to his win last year at Indianapolis. Does he win before next month’s race at Indy?

Dale Jarrett: I have to believe he will. There’s not a track that we will be going to between now and then that he doesn’t perform at a high level at. They continue to put themselves in position. I think at some point in time things will work out. Could be this weekend. I really believe it will happen certainly within the next four races.

Kyle Petty: Yes! Kyle wins before Indy. Honestly he should/could have won two or three races already this year. Driver, crew and pit call mistakes have kept them out of victory lane. They’ve beaten themselves. I believe with the tracks that are coming up that Kyle’s frustration ends.

Slugger Labbe: YES!! KB and the 18 team have been to me one of the best performers so far in 2017. They just need to seal the deal. Speed is not an issue, but they need to clean up a few things. I think it would be great for the garage to see KB win Daytona with a third-string crew chief. This team has had a shot at seven victories so far in 2017: Phoenix, Martinsville, Talladega, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono and Michigan. For KB to have a mic drop and a few F-bombs, I think he has done a remarkable job so far. Amazing that we are halfway through season and NO JGR team has been to victory lane yet!

Nate Ryan: He has three top fives in the past six restrictor-plate races between Daytona and Talladega, so I’ll be picking him Saturday night.

Dustin Long: Yes. The drought ends at Kentucky.