The past three seasons have not been very kind to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Since his debut in the #88 car in 2008, Earnhardt Jr has won only 1 race, and only made the chase once during his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports. After the 2010 season, team owner Rick Hendrick decided to switch crew chiefs and gave Dale Jr Steve Letarte.
With a new crew chief, many were wondering if this crew chief change will have any impact on the way Dale Jr performs. With Junior’s performance in 2011, the driver/crew chief pairing was one of the best moves made in NASCAR this past year. 2011 was a more positive year for Earnhardt Jr. He got his confidence back, and work became fun again. He would make the Chase for the first time since 2008, he had three opportunities to win a race during the 2011 season, and he finished 7th overall in the points. His 7th place points finish was his best points finish since 2006.
With 2011 out of the way, the next question on everyones mind is whether or not Dale Earnhardt Jr can exceed the performance he put up in 2011, and do bigger and better things in 2012?
First off, Dale Earnhardt Jr is due to win a race again in the Sprint Cup Series. He had three opportunities to win this year (Charlotte, Kansas, and Martinsville), and his relationship with Steve Letarte is a great one indeed. I don’t think I’ve seen a more interesting pairing between driver/crew chief in all my years of watching NASCAR. Even the radio communications between the two were interesting.
As we all know, its been a long time since we’ve seen the #88 car in Victory Lane. His last win was in June of 2008, when he won the Lifelock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. If Jr can win a race in 2012, I would consider the season a huge success and even a better year than 2011. Even if he doesn’t make the chase, Junior getting a win in the Sprint Cup Series again would bring relief to the team, the fans, and especially himself.
At this point, I don’t know how much Dale Jr has left in the tank, but I do know this. If he can get atleast one win in 2012, that could be all he needs to not only become a contender for the Sprint Cup title, but could also become the driver we all came to know and love. We’ll see what happens….