Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 16th in the overall, a very surmountable 67 points behind Jeff Burton, who is 12th. Of course, go the other way with those 67 points and Jr. plummets to 23rd in the overall. The point? Jr. is walking a very fine line and it's about time for him to start making hay while the sun shines.
Could Jr. and his team survive another few lackluster races? Perhaps, but continuing to labor in mediocrity, as they have through seven races, would not be good. And if it's a bit of a stretch to say that everything rides on the next three races, it's not an overstatement to say that these next three will go a long way toward determining just how legitimate or illegitimate Jr.'s championship chances really are.
The next three races are: Phoenix, Talladega, and Richmond. Each track hosts a Chase race and each is a place where Earnhardt has enjoyed success. Last year, he finished seventh and sixth at Phoenix, a track at which he's won twice; he was 10th and 28th at Talladega (five career wins); and he was 15th and fourth at Richmond (three wins).
If ever there was a time for Jr. to decisively shut up his critics, this would be it. Otherwise, he might just see his 2009 go up in smoke.