In an age of over-hyped stories, too many media outlets fighting for shock value, and celebrity athletes who think their every bowel movement is worthy of national coverage, it's easy to lose sight of how big Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement this week actually is.
I mean, Dale Jr. is LeBron James. He might not be the absolute best player in his sport, but he's without question its most popular. In a sport where money equals success, the fact that Junior has put himself up for auction after the 2007 season could, in one fell swoop, absolutely topple the balance of power in Nextel Cup racing. Wherever Earnhardt Jr. goes after leaving DEI when this year is over, that team instantly takes on the biggest cash cow in the history of the sport. Check out a race some time; see all those red-clad fans? They are not all enthusiasts of the Boston Red Sox.
I expect that Junior will land either with Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing, and I give a slight nod to Gibbs. There Little-E would be teamed with Tony Stewart to create a one-two punch that could match the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for star power and talent, and plus would officially cement the best restrictor-plate drafting partnership the sport has ever known. In the meantime, it's officially time to call a spade a spade and see Junior '07 for what he is: a lame duck.
Last Week: My picks finished second (Kyle Busch), third (Denny Hamlin) and fourth (Jeff Gordon), but like the man said, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Jimmie Johnson was the outright winner (which surprised me, considering his Richmond history), but we did easily hit on our head-to-head wager of the week, as Busch the Younger easily topped Jeff Burton. For the week, then, we finished up .37 units on 1.5 units wagered, for a return of 24.7%. For the season, we're up 2.31 units on 15 units wagered, a return of 15.4%. (As always, note that if you eschew the betting strategy I outline below, and simply put one unit per recommended wager, you'd be up 13.34 units on 40 units wagered so far this year, a return of 33.4%. But it's a riskier strategy; you would've lost money in each of the past two weeks.)
Take Jimmie Johnson (+400), 1/6th unit. I've learned my lesson. History doesn't mean as much, yet, as the Car of Tomorrow does, and it seems that Hendrick Motorsports has lapped the field in terms of its CoT development. J.J. had posted one top-20 finish at Richmond over the last four years before last Sunday's race, but he ran at or near the front for the entire event, and easily pulled away late in the proceedings for his fourth victory of the season, his second in the CoT. The odds aren't very friendly here, but considering Johnson swept Darlington (the site of Saturday night's race) in 2004 and has the best finishing average in Nextel Cup racing here since 2002 (7.25), the Lady in Black will once again be kind to the #48, rear wing or not.
Take Jeff Gordon (+500), 1/6th unit. And if it's not Johnson, it's foolish not to think it'll be his teammate Gordon instead. Gordon has won Darlington on six occasions, and he won the CoT event in Phoenix just a few weeks ago. Check out his finishes at the four CoT events we've seen so far in '07: third, second, first and fourth. Yeesh, I'd say Gordo has something figured out with this car, huh? It's not that Hendrick's cars have all been better than their competitors right out of the gate in every CoT event; rather, it's that Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch (+900) all seem to have more "adjustability" built into their cars, so they can make more drastic and more productive changes as races proceed. Expect that to happen again at the Track Too Tough to Tame on Saturday.
Take Greg Biffle (+1300), 1/6th unit. Here's a curveball. Biffle hasn't done much so far in '07; he sits 15th in points, having logged just one top-five and two top-10s in the season's first 10 events. Generally speaking, Roush Racing hasn't been competitive in the CoT (they've got four finishes better than 10th in 20 CoT starts so far in '07), and Biffle's lackluster 2006 season seems to have carried over into this year. But Biffle is the two-time defending champion at Darlington, and while I know I just said that history doesn't seem to be affecting the CoT races as much as we'd all like, no matter what the car, Darlington still suits Biffle's racing style to a tee. He likes high-banked, high-risk tracks where tires go away, and he has to slide his car coming out of the turns to keep it off the wall. That harkens back to the Biff's younger days, and it's why he won here both in '05 and '06. It would be a pretty big surprise, but I still do think there's a chance he could win Saturday night.
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