For Dale Earnhardt Jr, 2011 was a year of rebirth for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Immediately following the 2010 season, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick made a drastic change that ultimately shook the NASCAR world. Steve Letarte came onboard as Junior’s new crew chief (along with Alan Gustafson being Jeff Gordo’s crew chief) .
Before 2011, Earnhardt was ultimately struggling to have success at HMS. His only successful season before 2011 was 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. During that year, he made the Chase, and he won the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. After 2008 (from 09-10), Dale Jr was not meeting or exceeding expectations from HMS at all. He did not run well, and he would struggle to even make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Fast forward to 2011. As I’ve said, 2011 was a year of rebirth for Earnhardt Jr. For Junior, having a new crew chief was going to take time to get use to. However, that was not the case. We saw that Letarte and Earnhardt Jr got along almost immediately. With that new working relationship being formed, that immediately gave the #88 team some confidence, and plenty of results.
Junior would go on to make the Chase for the Cup, and finish 7th in points, which was his best points finish for Hendrick Motorsports since he joined the organization in 2008.
Now lets fast forward to 2012. 5 races into a fairly new Sprint Cup season, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver continues to have success. In 5 races, Junior has 2 top-5′s, and 3 top’10′s. He is currently 3rd in Sprint Cup Standings after an impressive 3rd place showing at the Auto Club 400 on Sunday. One interesting fact about Junior, his worst finish in 2012 was 15th, back two weeks ago at Bristol.
Dale Earnhardt Jr is continuing to show people that he still has it. Even though we’ve only had 5 races in this early Sprint Cup season, we all are seeing Junior continue to have success once again. So to me, last year’s success was no fluke at all.
I think we can credit Steve Letarte with reviving Juniors career in the Sprint Cup Series. I don’t know what kind of success Junior would have if we saw someone other than Letarte take the helm as the crew chief of the 88 team. I’ve said before that I am a Junior fan. Absolutely. I want to see Earnhardt have success. His success alone is what brings in the fans, and is what brings NASCAR money.
Overall, its great to see that Junior is having another career year. Will he be able to continue this consistency he has put up? Will he be able to finally win his first Sprint Cup race since 2008? We’ll find out soon enough.