Skip to main content

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is like the old EF Hutton commercial. When he talks, people listen.

Before the mid-October race in Las Vegas, when the NASCAR Hall of Famer revealed his predictions on the drivers he thought would make the Championship 4 in Phoenix, his words got the attention of fans not only because of who he picked to win it all but also because of who was notably missing.

After Kyle Larson won the race, Junior’s prognostication looked bad enough. Then NASCAR decided to pile on. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. prediction before Las Vegas

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has followed the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season as closely as anyone.

He watched Martin Truex Jr. win the regular-season title, only to see him fall on hard times in the playoffs and go on one of the worst stretches of races in his career. He’s witnessed Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin win three times, including a victory at Bristol in the playoffs. He’s seen Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney do something similar, winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the regular season and scoring a trophy at Talladega this postseason.

Earnhardt couldn’t help but be impressed by William Byron winning a series-leading six times while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson had totaled half as many victories heading into the playoff race at Las Vegas. 

Despite those drivers and their numbers, Junior has remained steadfast in his postseason picks since the start of the playoffs. He reiterated his prediction during Sunday’s Countdown to Green pre-race show at Vegas. 

“I’m staying with William Byron, Blaney, Truex, and Hamlin,” he said. “But today, I’m going to be honest. Today is the day for me to really stick with Blaney or not. I need to see what kind of performance he has on the race track, and by the end of this day, I’m either going to stick with Ryan Blaney going to the final four and winning the championship or I’m off the boat.”  

Kyle Larson win damages the Earnhardt bracket

Earnhardt knew after Kyle Larson won the first postseason race at Darlington that his final picks were on shaky ground. However, he found hope over the next four weeks as three of the drivers he predicted to make Phoenix recorded wins, including Hamlin at Bristol, Byron at Texas, and Blaney at Talladega.

On Sunday, after Earnhardt stuck with his picks, Larson once again made him look bad for doing so by going out and dominating on the 1.5-mile track, leading a race-high 133 laps and holding off a hard-charging Christopher Bell for the win. 

With that result, the driver the 49-year-old NBC analyst hadn’t included in his final four had advanced to the Championship 4 race. 

Ryan Blaney disqualification dealt serious blow

Earnhardt’s bracket looked bad enough after Larson’s win. Then it was made dramatically worse not long after the race. 

When the checkered flag waved, Earnhardt had to feel good about picking Blaney to make it to Phoenix after the No. 12 recorded a solid day in Sin City, including finishing inside the top 10 in both stages and scoring a sixth-place overall finish.  

However, that all changed when Blaney’s car failed post-race inspection for a left front shock that didn’t meet NASCAR’s overall specified length, and he was disqualified. 

As a result, all of those valuable points accumulated during the race were taken away. And now, the 29-year-old driver is effectively facing a must-win situation at Homestead or Martinsville — two tracks on which he’s never won — to qualify for the Championship 4.

Earnhardt, meanwhile, is faced with a muddled bracket after Vegas that the oddsmakers, EF Hutton, or the average everyday fan wouldn’t give a good chance of achieving success.

To stay up to date on the latest happenings in NASCAR, including breaking stories you can’t find anywhere else, follow Kyle on YouTube and Twitter.