Sep 3, 2014, 4:31 PM EST
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
Feb 28, 2015, 2:15 PM EST
Danish driver reveals he received the call to say he would not be racing in F1 very late, preventing him from securing a drive elsewhere in 2015.
Feb 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Is “Focus” IndyCar-focused? No. Is it cool to have IndyCar as a part of a Will Smith movie? Definitely.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Brazilian driver finishes second on day three of the final test in Barcelona, two-tenths of a second behind pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
German driver completes 234 laps in just a day and a half in Barcelona as he continues to learn about the VJM08.
Feb 28, 2015, 12:02 PM EST
British driver finishes two-tenths of a second clear of Felipe Massa on the penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Feb 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Four-time world champion will get his final test run in the new Ferrari on Sunday ahead of his grand prix debut for the team next month.
Feb 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
We wish Mario Andretti, one of the all-time greats, a happy 75th birthday.
Feb 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Team founder John Booth is confident that the revived outfit will race in the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
IndyCar drivers hit several race markets for “Focus” premieres.
Feb 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
How well does Josef Newgarden dunk? Find out in video he does with Indiana Pacers “Power Pack.”
Feb 27, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
French driver set for a fourth season in GP2 this year with Lazarus.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
One of California’s more prestigious racing awards has its nominees revealed.
Feb 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
Indy Honor Flight event to be held at CGR shop in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Massa says that the main thing is that Alonso is okay and unhurt following his hefty crash in testing last week.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
17-year-old has just one day of testing left before making his F1 debut in Australia.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Champions emerge on in a cold finale to 2015 Cooper Tires Winterfest.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
First run for the VJM08 was “remarkable”, but there is still plenty to be caught up with at Force India.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
German driver not happy with the setup on his W06 Hybrid despite posting the fastest time of winter testing so far in Barcelona.
- Hamilton fastest as Mercedes impresses again on day three 0
- Happy 75th birthday to one of the best ever, Mario Andretti 1
- Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Friday 0
- Rosberg quickest as Mercedes shows its hand on day two 0
- Alexander Rossi confirms return to GP2 in 2015 with Racing Engineering 3
- FIA issues updated F1 entry list including “Manor Marussia” 3
- Fernando Alonso thanks fans for support following crash 2