Jimmie Johnson. Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick. Jeff Gordon. Kurt Busch. Kasey Kahne.
What do all of these top-flight drivers have in common? They haven't won a single race this year. And yet they don't get a tenth of the criticism that their fellow winless driver, one Dale Earnhardt Jr., does.
Of course, unlike Earnhardt, each of those drivers has won a race since the Bush administration left office. The Streak piles upon itself, adding coils week after frustrating week. But here's the thing: Earnhardt might just be closer to victory lane than any of those others.
Consider: he sits second in the standings, just five points out of first, at the quarter-pole of the season. He's got five straight top-10 finishes, seven overall. That suggests that he's not just getting to the front, he's staying there. He's in position to win, and that's something we haven't seen in a long time.
Saturday night at Richmond is a perfect example of the joy and agony of being a Junior fan. Thanks to some solid racing on Junior's part and some good breaks that took out some of the race leaders, Earnhardt found himself in second place with less than 10 laps remaining.
And, in a wondrous coalescing of storylines, it was Kyle Busch ahead of him, the same Kyle Busch who spun Earnhardt at Richmond in the 2008 spring race. Could we be in for history repeating and reversing itself? Would history be made this night?
Nope. Earnhardt simply didn't even have the car to catch Busch, much less pass him. So he "settled" for a second-place finish. But it's clear: better times are ahead, and perhaps as soon as this weekend at Talladega. Yes, we've been saying that for awhile now. But this time, we really mean it. Promise.