Another blow for Junior

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

NASCAR Sprint Cup has a dilemma.

And the dilemma is a green and white Chevrolet with the No. 88 on both doors and the roof.

The driver's name is Dale Earnhardt Jr. and he has a bigger fan base than the next nine drivers behind you combined. If there is a royal family of racing, Earnhardt certainly is the crown prince.

He commands the largest salary in the NASCAR garage, and sponsors -- even in these tough economic times -- line up to have their names on the quarter panels of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Heck, not even David Copperfield could change a sea of red into a sea of green at a NASCAR event faster than Earnhardt did when he changed sponsors from Budweiser to Mountain Dew last season.

But he sits here this week waiting to race at his favourite track -- Talladega Superspeedway -- way back in 19th place in the championship, 399 points behind his teammate Jeff Gordon.

And yesterday NASCAR announced that it has placed Earnhardt and Casey Mears on probation for the next six races as a result of their on-track incident last Saturday at the conclusion of the race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Earnhardt and Mears, officials ruled, violated Section 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing; hitting another competitor's car after the race had concluded) of the 2009 NASCAR rule book.

This comes at a time when "Little E" needs to start putting some big time numbers on the board. Earnhardt has won NASCAR's most popular driver award for the past five consecutive years, but has won only one race (Michigan 2008) in the past three seasons.

There is a theory that the No. 88 car can do no wrong because of the heritage and popularity Earnhardt carries with him. In fact, there are more than a few conspiracy nuts who swear NASCAR does everything within its power to help the No. 88 win.

But really, in what professional sport would a 19th place competitor be given that kind of star treatment?

Earnhardt, if he wants to keep being on the receiving end of the love and cash that goes with his name, will have to take action to at least mollify his legion of fans who, frankly, just might be getting restless. There are four drivers in the Hendrick garage. Three of them have won races this season, but the No. 88 team can't even get a sniff.

It's time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to do some winning on his own, or do what Bill Elliott did when he stopped winning in the Cup series, and withdraw his name from the annual most popular driver award.

It's Tracy time

Paul Tracy finally has landed a job.

The 2003 Champ Car World Series champion has been looking for work behind the wheel of a race car since his old boss Gerry Forsythe decided to close up shop when the series merged with the Indy Racing League before the start of the 2008 season.

It doesn't matter that Tracy is still -- even at 40 years old -- considered one of the most fierce competitors on any race track, he couldn't attract the sponsorship needed to get back into big-time open wheel racing.

There was the one-off last season at the Rexall Edmonton Grand Prix where he jumped into a Walker Racing prepared car on loan from series owner Tony George. All he did was bring it home in fourth place, the team's best finish of that season.

Now his pal Jimmy Vasser and his business agent Doug Barnette have combined to get him in next month's Indianapolis 500, where he'll carry the colours of American insurance giant GEICO in a KV Technology Racing Honda Dallara.

Tracy will get three weeks of testing and qualifying at the world's most famous oval prior to the May 24 race, so he should be in race shape when the flag drops.

And don't bet against the Thrill from West Hill, who figures the Brickyard owes him one after he was robbed in 2002 of the Borg Warner Trophy in favour of Helio Castroneves on a last lap yellow. It's a slight that haunts him.

"I have accomplished a lot of things during my racing career, but one of the things that I am missing is a win at Indy," Tracy said in a statement. "I feel I have some unfinished business at the Brickyard."

It is strongly suspected that a good finish at Indy will propel Tracy into a full-time ride in the IndyCar series -- including the Honda Grand Prix of Toronto in July and a trip back to Edmonton.

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TRACKING THE AGED

Top 10 oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup winners:

1. Harry Gant -- 52 years, seven months, six days

2. Morgan Shepherd -- 51 years, four months, 27 days

3. Mark Martin -- 50 years, three months, nine days

4. Bobby Allison -- 50 years, two months, 11 days

5. Dale Earnhardt -- 49 years, five months, 16 days

6. Dale Jarrett -- 48 years, 10 months, six days

7. Bill Elliott -- 48 years, one month, one day

8. Rusty Wallace -- 47 years, eight months, four days

9. Geoffrey Bodine -- 47 years, three months, 24 days

10. Richard Petty -- 47 years, two days


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