Skip to content

Off to best start of his career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. proving he’s for real in 2014

Mar 2, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT

Dale Earnhardt Jr AP

Second may be the first loser, but for Dale Earnhardt Jr., finishing second in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway was a continuation of the best season start in his 15-year Sprint Cup career.

After winning his second Daytona 500 last Sunday, Earnhardt in the following days went on a monumental victory lap across the country to celebrate with media and fans across the country.

And while sleep was rare this past week as he jetted from town to town, Earnhardt was wide awake and on top of his game in Sunday’s race.

He could have potentially made it two wins in a row, but Kevin Harvick held him off on the final lap to relegate Junior to runner-up status.

Granted, there are still 34 races left, but a first and second place finish in the first two events, coupled with Earnhardt remaining atop the Sprint Cup standings, bodes well for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the last 11 years.

That he did well at Phoenix was not exactly a surprise, per se. Earnhardt used to do very well at the one-mile flat track.

In four straight races from 2002 through the spring race in 2005, Earnhardt drove his Dale Earnhardt Inc. No. 8 to two wins and two other top-five finishes.

Ironically, when he move to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Junior began a performance nosedive at PIR.

From his first race in 2008 under the Hendrick banner through the end of 2012 – 10 races in total – Earnhardt managed no wins and just three top-10s.

But things began to turn around last year in a big way. In the second race of 2013, he started 21st and finished fifth. In last year’s fall Chase race, the second-to-last race of the season, he started 11th and finished fourth.

And then came Sunday. He started fifth, ran in the top-five almost the entire race and came home with a solid second-place finish.

Is Junior really and truly for real in 2014?

So far, so good, it would appear.

“I hope everybody enjoyed the race,” Earnhardt said. “We were really working out butts of there and giving it everything we had.”

And they most certainly did a good job, indeed.

While some cynics looked at Phoenix as a better measuring stick if Earnhardt is for real after his win at Daytona, next Sunday’s race in Las Vegas may actually be the best measuring stick of all.

Earlier in his career, he excelled on 1.5-mile tracks. But much like the way his early good fortune at PIR morphed to misfortune for several years, such has been the case for Earnhardt over the last few years, as well.

He began to climb out of the void last season. Even though he didn’t win a race in 2013, he did very well on several 1.5-mile or larger tracks: including fifth at Las Vegas, second at Fontana (a 2.0-mile track), 12th at Kentucky and eighth at Atlanta.

But it was in the Chase for the Sprint Cup that Earnhardt took things to a whole other level, especially in the closing stages of the season.

In addition to a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire and runner-up at Dover, he was eighth at Kansas, 15th at Charlotte, second at Talladega, eighth at Martinsville, second at Texas, fourth at Phoenix and third in the season finale at Homestead.

That’s why what Junior has done thus far in the first two races in 2014 isn’t all that much of a surprise in many ways.

He was a win waiting to happen last season, which he finally got a little late last week at Daytona. And other than eventual champion Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt was the most consistent driver during last year’s Chase.

“I think we just got a lot of momentum carried over from last year,” Earnhardt said. “We were running well in the Chase.  I think the Chase performance we had got us pretty excited, real happy to look forward to this season.”

And that’s why there was absolutely no reason why he couldn’t pick up in 2014 where he left off in 2013.

And that’s exactly what he has done. He has a great chance to win for the first time at Las Vegas and keep his outstanding start to this season going.

“(Crew chief Steve Letarte) and those guys just keep getting better and better,” Earnhardt said. “These cars I’m driving I think are the best in the garage.”

And it certainly helps when you have the best driver in the garage thus far this season behind the wheel.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Ken Block seizes opportunity, wins Red Bull GRC at MCAS New River

    Jul 5, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    BlockMCASwin Getty Images

    Block wins at MCAS New River, Round 4 of the Red Bull GRC season.

  2. FIA stewards take no action over five-car incident on first lap of British Grand Prix

    Jul 5, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Grosjean, Ricciardo, Maldonado, Alonso and Button all cleared of any wrongdoing after first lap incident.

  3. WATCH LIVE: Red Bull GRC from MCAS New River at 5 p.m. ET on NBC

    Jul 5, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    OMSEdaytona Getty Images

    Before NASCAR resumes on NBC from Daytona, see Red Bull GRC pick up its season from its first race after Daytona, at MCAS New River.

  4. F1 Paddock Pass: British Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

    Jul 5, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Will Buxton brings you all of the post-race interviews and analysis at Silverstone.

  5. Alonso takes “small joy” from first point of 2015 season

    Jul 5, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    P10 at Silverstone gets Alonso off the mark in 2015.

  6. Manor scores best result since Monaco 2014 at Silverstone

    Jul 5, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 04:  Will Stevens of Great Britain and Manor Marussia drives during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens finish 12th and 13th at Manor’s home race.

  7. Massa frustrated to lose podium finish in late downpour

    Jul 5, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Williams Martini Racing's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa (L) leads Williams Martini Racing's Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas during the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 5, 2015.      AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Brazilian driver forced to settle for fourth place at Silverstone on Sunday.

  8. Ricciardo sidelined by electrical issue in British GP

    Jul 5, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Issue on the Renault power unit forces Ricciardo out of the race at Silverstone.

  9. Hopes of first win fade for Bottas due to team orders, late rain shower at Silverstone

    Jul 5, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Williams Martini Racing's Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas and Williams Martini Racing's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa (R) race during the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 5, 2015.       AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF        (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Could today have marked Valtteri Bottas’ first victory in Formula 1?

  10. Vettel thanks rain for podium finish at Silverstone, doubts Williams made a massive step

    Jul 5, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel holds a trophy after taking third place in the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 5, 2015.    AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    A late rain shower allows Vettel to claim Ferrari’s first podium finish since the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.

  11. Rosberg recovers to second at Silverstone, praises Hamilton for late pit call

    Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After a poor start, Rosberg fights his way to second place at Silverstone, but slips further behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.

  12. Emotional Hamilton tears up on last lap of British GP, thanks fans for support en route to win

    Jul 5, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 5, 2015.
 AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton won his home grand prix for the third time on Sunday after seeing off a spirited challenge from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and both Williams drivers.

  13. Hamilton weathers the storm to claim third British GP victory at Silverstone

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton races during the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 5, 2015.      AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton beats the weather and the field to record his third victory at Silverstone.

  14. GP2: Haryanto claims third sprint race win of season

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Rossi charges to fourth place in spite of a time penalty.

  15. WATCH LIVE: British GP Race Day on CNBC and Live Extra from 7:30am ET

    Jul 5, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the qualifying session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 4, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix.      
 AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF        (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Can Lewis Hamilton win for a third time on home soil? Or will Nico Rosberg spoil his homecoming?

  16. What to watch for: British Grand Prix (7:30am ET on CNBC and Live Extra)

    Jul 5, 2015, 6:31 AM EDT

    Williams Martini Racing's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa (L) shares a joke with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton after the qualifying session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 4, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton took pole ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg with Massa in third place.
 AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Everything you need to know ahead of today’s race at Silverstone.

  17. Mallya stresses sustainability in bid to ‘uncrap’ F1

    Jul 4, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 11: UB group Chairman and Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Mallya talking with media at Parliament House after attending the extended winter session on February 11, 2014 in New Delhi, India.(Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images) Getty Images

    The coinage of a new term took place at Silverstone on Thursday thanks for Force India’s owner.

  18. Raikkonen and Vettel downbeat as Ferrari lags to third row at Silverstone

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Both Ferraris will start behind Williams for the first time in 2015 on Sunday.