Chase Prospects: Will sheer consistency be enough for Junior?

Nick Bromberg

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2011 has been like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Consistent, reliable, and yet unspectacular.

There have been a couple other sandwiches mixed in, like the monster clubs at Martinsville and Kansas (2nd-place finishes) and the beautiful but expired at first taste ham and swiss at Charlotte (running out of gas entering Turn 3 on the last lap). But for the most part, it's been consistent runs and finishes in a few spots either way from 10th place.

Yeah, they're good, and certainly not bad. But not great either.

Junior and crew chief Steve Letarte were conservative with the setup of the car leading up to the Chase to ensure a berth. But now is not the time to be conservative. Will their results show it?

Junior's best Chase track: Talladega (average finish of 14.7) seems to be the obvious answer, but strictly by average finishes it's Martinsville, perhaps the most opposite track on the circuit, where Junior averages a 13th-place finish.

Junior's worst Chase track: Homestead, and it's not even close. That doesn't bode well if Junior is in the hunt going into the final race. In 11 career starts in south Florida, Junior's average finish is 24.2 with no top 10s.

Key Question: Let's say Junior and Letarte upgrade to premium bread and all-natural ingredients. Will the consistency be enough, or will there need to be some more club sandwiches mixed in?

NB's Prediction: 11th. The No. 88 team has done enough to get into the Chase, and they definitely deserve to be in it. Junior's having a good season. He just needs a great one to win the Chase.