Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Drivers to Watch: Earnhardt Jr. versus Kenseth


Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Victory Junction Gang Camp
October 2010 Photo Credit: Genevieve 
The Chase season starts in five short weeks and competitors are driving hard for wins – at this point, it’s anyone’s game. All of these drivers are contenders and counting anyone out is premature. We saw Tony Stewart win five out of ten races last fall, so the chance to see something more – or less – impressive is realistic. 
For this series of “Drivers to Watch” articles that we are posting over the next few days, I asked my fellow writers to weigh in with their thoughts on drivers as I compared the top contenders.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1st in points - 1 win - 9 top fives - 15 top 10s - 0 DNFs
    versus
Matt Kenseth 2nd in points  - 1 win 
- 9 top fives - 13 top 10s - 1 DNF

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is finally the points leader for the first time since 2004. Unfortunately, back then he lost that lead due to a penalty caused by his cursing in victory lane at Talladega. You could say the earth shifted on its axis in Indianapolis after Kenseth crashed and Earnhardt held the points lead.
Earnhardt put his stats from previous seasons behind him and took on 2012 with a clean slate. He's the only driver to finish 20 races on the lead lap this season. His consistency is helping him, and his win in Michigan has boosted his confidence. With tough tracks ahead, Earnhardt could easily fall behind but the 88 team is on a mission: to win their first Cup championship. There's no doubt Earnhardt can do it. He told reporter on RaceDay the win in Michigan was a tease; he’s ready to get back in victory lane.

Kenseth's luck ran out in Indianapolis when Logano got in the way, causing a crash to the No. 17 5/3rd Bank Ford, handing Kenseth his first DNF of the season. The two-time Daytona 500 winner already has a championship from 2003. Although we do not know where he is going in 2013 it’s safe to assume he's heading toward a well-deserved second championship before he leaves Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season. 

Although both drivers are deserving of finishing first, I'd like to give this to Earnhardt. A Championship title for Little E has been long awaited, well deserved and I believe he'll finish before Kenseth.

Katy, what are your thoughts?

Matt Kenseth with his daughter in Darlington
May 2012
Photo Credit: Genevieve
Consistency is the key to a successful season. Matt Kenseth is considered the king of consistency, but he may have met his match in 2012 with Earnhardt. Long known as being one of the least consistent drivers in the garage, Earnhardt and Letarte have found the chemistry that’s been missing from the No. 88 for years and they have marched to the front of the field. Taking adversity in stride rather than letting it get the best of them, the team finished last weekend’s race at Pocono in 32nd after having to change a transmission mid-race, yet still retained the points lead.

I’d never rule Kenseth out as a contender but in a head-to-head battle I’d give Earnhardt the win based on this season alone. There’s still time for the No. 17 team to end their run together at the top of the standings and with tracks like Michigan, Bristol, and Atlanta looming, Kenseth isn’t going to give up just because he’s a few points behind Earnhardt. Look for Kenseth to come on strong in the coming weeks and give Earhardt a run for his money. Of course none of that will matter when the Chase seedings are set - that will be the true test of how these two drivers stack up in a one-on-one battle.  

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