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: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 21 Paul Menard

    Dec 21, 2014, 12:26 PM EST

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Paul Menard had a decent season at times in 2014, but fell short of making the Chase in the final qualifying race.

  2. Empire Racing grabs 3 fastest spots in Daytona ARCA test

    Dec 20, 2014, 11:42 PM EST

    Sean Corr was the fastest driver in the two-day ARCA test at Daytona International Speedway. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    New York State’s Empire Racing took the three fastest spots as ARCA completed a two-day open test at Daytona International Speedway.

  3. John Force like you’ve never seen him: ‘Papa John’ the grandfather (video)

    Dec 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EST

    John force with grandsons 2014

    See NHRA great John Force like you’ve never seen him in this video, shot mainly through the eyes of his grandsons Jacob and Noah.

  4. Dick Berggren to be inducted into Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Dec 20, 2014, 8:16 PM EST

    (Photo courtesy Fox Sports) (Photo courtesy Fox Sports)

    Dr. Dick Berggren will receive yet another prestigious honor in his career. He’ll be inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in April 2015.

  5. New Hampshire Motor Speedway staff gives great holiday gift: NASCAR-themed carols

    Dec 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EST

    (Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The staff at New Hampshire Motor Speedway got into the holiday spirit, caroling with a unique NASCAR twist in a newly-released video.

  6. NASCAR late model driver helps brighten holiday for needy Wisconsin family

    Dec 20, 2014, 6:29 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014 Getty Images

    Matt Henderson, Henderson Motorsports, and local businesses deliver presents and gifts to family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

  7. IndyCar that will be ‘dropped’ to usher in New Year in Indianapolis to be unveiled Monday

    Dec 20, 2014, 5:29 PM EST

    verizon indycar series logo 2014

    Times Square’s ‘ball drop’ will have nothing on Indianapolis as it lowers an Indy Car as the final seconds of 2014 tick off.

  8. Dover International Speedway names new track president

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST

    Credit: Dover Motorsports Credit: Dover Motorsports

    Michael Tatoian has been able to help bring additional events to the Monster Mile beyond its two NASCAR weekends.

  9. Top NASCAR Stories of 2014: No. 11 – Carl Edwards leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Carl Edwards (left) and Matt Kenseth, former teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, will be reunited in 2015 at Joe Gibbs Racing. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Carl Edwards was the most sought-after Sprint Cup free agent in 2014. After more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards announced he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.

  10. WATCH: James Stewart, Travis Pastrana compete at Red Bull Straight Rhythm (NBC, 4 p.m. ET)

    Dec 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    Photo credit: Shawn Smith Photo credit: Shawn Smith

    Red Bull Straight Rhythm is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring an “unwound” supercross track and head-to-head racing. Tune in to NBC to see how it all played out.

  11. Report: Bernie Ecclestone, German bank sue each other over sale of F1 stake

    Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone arrives at the High Court in central London in this file photo Reuters

    BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.

  12. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 20 Austin Dillon

    Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 At NH Motor Speedway Getty Images

    Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.

  13. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 19 Clint Bowyer

    Dec 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Clint Bowyer endured the worst season of his Sprint Cup career in 2014. He hasn’t won a race since 2012, but 2015 could be a comeback year for him.

  14. NHRA: Brittany Force set for 2015 to be her year in Top Fuel

    Dec 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EST

    Brittany Force. (Photos courtesy of Ron Lewis Photography) Brittany Force. (Photos courtesy of Ron Lewis Photography)

    Daughter of legendary Funny Car champ John Force, Brittany Force is out to prove that 2015 will be her year in NHRA Top Fuel racing.

  15. Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., has ‘secret’ F4 test

    Dec 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    mick schumacher jr.

    Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., spent a recent testing day in a Formula 4 car, a possible prelude to following in his famous father’s footsteps.

  16. Ganassi places faith in youngsters Kimball, Karam by putting them in No. 01 car

    Dec 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    CGRdaytona Getty Images

    Rare, intriguing call for CGR to put two lesser-experienced drivers in No. 01 car.

  17. Williams recaps incredible 2014 campaign (VIDEO)

    Dec 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ABU-DHABI-PODIUM Getty Images

    Williams’ stellar 2014 season, recapped in pictures and words.

  18. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 12 – Newman, Kenseth winless but still successful

    Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST

    Hollywood Casino 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth proved that consistency still pays.

Video from NASCAR America

NASCAR America's 2014 blooper reel
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Vickers (1975)
  2. K. Busch (1964)
  3. C. Coughlin (1872)
  4. D. Armstrong (1627)
  5. L. Cassill (1456)
  1. A. Self (1414)
  2. R. Black Jr. (1367)
  3. B. Kennedy (1223)
  4. D. Suarez (1157)
  5. M. Tifft (1103)