Skip to content

Chase Capsules: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Jr. wins 2014 daytona 500 AP

88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 3rd (2003)
Chase History: 7th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 5th in 2004, 2006 and 2013

Regular Season Recap: Beginning with his huge win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and his two wins at Pocono, Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has enjoyed his most successful season (and total of wins) since 2004. And there’s still 10 races remaining. Wins are great, but it’s been the consistency that has separated Junior this year from year’s past. And with the exception of just one week when he dropped to sixth, he’s fluctuated between first and fifth place in the season standings. But Junior isn’t done by any stretch. He can easily win Saturday at Richmond and perhaps grab another win or two in the Chase. Until he proves otherwise, this very well could be Earnhardt’s greatest season ever.

Jerry’s Take: An argument can be made that this has – to date – been Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best season yet in Sprint Cup racing.

Sure, he had a career-best six wins in the first year of the Chase (2004), but starting with his win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt has appeared more motivated to win that elusive first championship than he ever has.

He has more incentive, as well. First, this is crew chief Steve Letarte’s final season with Junior before becoming a full-time NASCAR analyst on NBC telecasts in 2015. Also, Earnhardt turns 40 next month (where has the time gone). He knows he’s already begun the downhill slide on his career.

If he’s ever to win a Sprint Cup championship, this likely will be the best opportunity he’ll ever have.

Chris’s Take: This has been building over the last year for Earnhardt, who served notice that 2014 would be a strong season for him thanks to a great 2013 Chase following his engine failure at Chicagoland.

Now, as this year’s post-season looms, he and his rabid fan base are brimming with hope that this will be the year. And why shouldn’t they be?

Junior has been in the lead pack almost all the way, and the 88 team as a whole (including outgoing crew chief Steve Letarte) is as cohesive a unit as you’ll find in the garage. I’d be surprised if these guys didn’t make it to Homestead with a chance at the Cup.

Tony’s Take: A revitalized, focused Dale Earnhardt Jr. has emerged throughout the entirety of the 2014 season and is in the best position possible to capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. It would be a fitting cap to a year when he and crew chief Steve Letarte are at the end of their stint together.

Problem is, lately, Junior and the No. 88 team haven’t clicked nearly as well as they did in the first half of the year. The qualifying needs to improve. Simple ninth to 12th place finishes on race day won’t get the job done. With only one top five in the last eight races, Junior has fallen behind in the Hendrick pecking order, if not the standings themselves.

He should be able to advance through the Challenger and Contender rounds easily, provided the finishes pick up. But advancing from Eliminator through to the finale at Homestead may be a greater challenge. Right now, it’s hard to see three of the four Hendrick drivers able to fight for a title at Homestead, and Junior will need to recapture that early season form if he wants to be in with a shot.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Zero wins, 7 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 30 starts
Dover (1 mile) – One win, 6 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 29 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 2 Top-5s, 8 Top-10s in 16 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 5 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 29 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – Five wins, 10 Top-5s, 14 Top-10s in 29 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Zero wins, 11 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 29 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 24 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – Two wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 24 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – One win, 1 Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 14 starts

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. NASCAR Trucks: Crafton still controls title race, but Bubba looming larger

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Kroger 200 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Battle for Truck Series championship becomes three-horse race.

  2. Bubba Wallace pays homage to NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott with encore win at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT

    (Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. won his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway last October. He returned to the short bullring one year later to win there again in Saturday’s Kroger 200.

  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier trying to bounce back after missing Talladega

    Oct 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Stenhouse and Allgaier will start mid-pack on Sunday at Martinsville.

  4. Haas: Starting F1 team my biggest challenge yet

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Gene Haas Formula One Press Conference Getty Images

    Says first five years in F1 are about surviving, but cannot see the project failing.

  5. Kevin Harvick quickest in final Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Harvick turns in a 19.457-second lap around the Virginia half-mile to top “Happy Hour.”

  6. COTA set to provide Vettel with a dose of nostalgia

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    F1 US Grand Prix Auto Racing AP

    German driver looking forward to tackling the Circuit of The Americas in Austin next weekend.

  7. Dale Jr. Foundation gives brand new 2015 Corvette to ailing fan

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy WITN.com) (Photo courtesy WITN.com)

    Despite fighting breast cancer for the third time, NASCAR fan Wendy Smith decided to spend $25 to help others even less fortunate. Her gratuity paid off in a big way, earning a brand new $65,000 Chevrolet Corvette.

  8. Danica Patrick angry with NASCAR over ‘Dega qualifying, questions its diversity program

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Patrick not afraid to tackle thorny topics yesterday at Martinsville.

  9. Bubba Wallace honors Wendell Scott by earning pole for Martinsville Truck race

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    On a weekend that carries a lot of significance for honoring NASCAR Hall of Fame-elect inductee Wendell Scott, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. paid tribute in his own way to Scott, earning the pole for Saturday’s Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race.

  10. Karthikeyan: F1 completely unsustainable for small teams

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix Of India Getty Images

    Former HRT driver casts his damning judgement on the current cost crisis in F1.

  11. Will the top powers in F1 now get the message about the cost crisis? Don’t count on it

    Oct 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Getty Images

    The demise of both Caterham and Marussia has been on the cards for some time, yet Formula 1 has allowed it to happen.

  12. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon pace early-morning Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT

    (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Despite chilly temperatures in the mid-40s in the 50-minute early-morning session, Jimmie Johnson led all drivers in the next-to-last Sprint Cup practice with a best lap of 98.023 mph, the only driver over the 98 mph mark.

  13. Sir Jack Brabham’s life and legacy celebrated in special event at Silverstone

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race Getty Images

    Over 400 people attend special event in celebration of Brabham’s life and legacy.

  14. Maldonado hoping for strong finish to 2014 season

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Practice Getty Images

    Lotus driver has failed to score any points in 2014, but feels that next season will hold better things.

  15. Moto GP: Marquez breaks pole position record in Malaysia

    Oct 25, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

    MOTO-PRIX-MAS Getty Images

    Yet another record falls to the Spanish sensation in Malaysia.

  16. Marussia also set to miss United States GP

    Oct 25, 2014, 5:48 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone claims that there will be just 18 cars racing in Austin.

  17. Jimmie Johnson: ‘That day is out there’ when he’ll split with crew chief Chad Knaus

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT

    (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    In a surprisingly candid admission, six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson says that while nothing is imminent, the day is coming when he and crew chief Chad Knaus will go their separate ways.

  18. ‘Hey, I’m Kevin (Harvick), welcome to Outback. Can I get you a table?’ (with video)

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse) (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse)

    In a bemusing video released Thursday, NASCAR star Kevin Harvick spent one of his recent off nights working the room at an Outback Steakhouse.

  19. Jeff Gordon delivers 1 millionth meal for Drive To End Hunger to 89-year-old race fan

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy WFMYnews2.com) (Photo courtesy WFMYnews2.com)

    On Thursday, Jeff Gordon delivered the one millionth meal served by one of Gordon’s key sponsors, the Drive To End Hunger.

  20. Ex-John Force crew chief Jimmy Prock hired by rival Don Schumacher Racing

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:26 PM EDT

    Crew chief Jimmy Prock. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing) Crew chief Jimmy Prock. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

    Jimmy Prock, who resigned earlier this week as crew chief for 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, has been hired by rival Don Schumacher Racing.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. R. Preece (1940)
  2. K. Busch (1665)
  3. M. Kenseth (1512)
  4. R. Newman (1409)
  5. L. Cassill (1289)
  1. D. Coby (1256)
  2. K. Kahne (1186)
  3. B. Keselowski (1179)
  4. W. Pitkat (1170)
  5. J. Johnson (1141)