Just six races remain for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the playoffs in his final NASCAR Cup season.
Earnhardt is ranked 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings and there are only four open positions — that could shrink further with additional first-time winners in 2017 in the next six races — left for winless drivers to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs strictly on points.
As a result, Earnhardt and his fans know that with each passing race where the No. 88 remains winless, the urgency to win even just one race to make the 10-race playoffs increases exponentially.
Junior’s fans may be heartened to hear some positive tidbits about his chances this weekend at Pocono Raceway, courtesy of RacingInsights.com.
- Did you know that during Junior’s nine-plus year tenure with Hendrick Motorsports, he’s earned the most top-fives at Daytona (seven in 20 starts) and … this may come as a surprise … at Pocono (seven in 18 starts).
- Earnhardt also has six top fives both at Martinsville and Michigan (18 starts each), and five top fives at Phoenix and Talladega (also 18 starts each).
- Of Hendrick Motorsports’ last 10 wins, Jimmie Johnson has won eight, Kasey Kahne won last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and Earnhardt’s most recent Cup win came on Nov. 15, 2015 at Phoenix Raceway.
- Earnhardt has gone 39 races since his last win.
- Earnhardt won both races at Pocono in 2014. In the four races he’s been in since then, he’s finished fourth (mid-summer 2015) second (early 2016 race) — meaning he’s had four top-five finishes in his last six starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
- He also was 11th in the early 2015 race there. His only finish lower than 11th came last month at Pocono when he completed just 58 of the scheduled 160 laps before his motor expired.
- In 34 career Cup starts at the Tricky Triangle, Earnhardt has two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and one pole.
- Earnhardt is ranked sixth for most laps led by winless drivers this season, with 24 laps led. By comparison, Kyle Busch has led 1,040 laps, the most of all winless drivers in 2017.
Add all those elements together and could Junior’s best chance up to now to win and lock in a playoff berth come this Sunday?
We’ll soon find out.