The Maturation Of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The National Guard #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.As we peek around the corner at Fathers Day weekend, the question on the tongues of almost everyone in Junior Nation is, will Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive to Victory Lane Sunday at the Quicken Loans 400? Yes, it’s been four long years that we have been asking the same old question, ” is this the weekend you end the win-less streak which has now grown to 143 races”?

Now I know that if he had his druthers, Dale Jr. would want to win a race and get you and me, and all those reporters of his butt, and quit asking when he is going to end his 143 race win-less streak, but we are seeing something in him this season I don’t think we have seen in the past. Patience.

That patience I see, came at Pocono when he decided that finishing a race in the top ten was more important right now, than trying to win a race, and running out gas. He now understands that in order for him to win a championship, he first has to be in the running, and that means making the chase. If he runs out of gas, and finishes 32nd too many times, he will not make the chase.

I don’t know if this is all Dale Jr, or some of it is coming from an experienced crew chief in Steve Letarte who has won a championship with  with Jeff Gordon, and knows what it takes to get to the promise land. This whole new attitude from Dale Jr has come on Steve Letarte’s watch.

It hasn’t been too long ago since Dale Jr was going through crew chiefs as fast as Brad Pit was going through wives, but this pairing seems to be working. They appear to be on the same page, and Dale Jr is finally listening to someone that can help him get out of this slump, and back on top again.

With giving up track position, and getting caught in the Nascar’s Speed Trap, Dale Jr still finished 8th on the day Sunday, and with Greg Biffle’s late race engine problems and a 24th place finish, pushed up one position to second place in the points standings, only 10 points behind new leader Matt Kenseth.

He has now had 5 top 5’s and 11 top 10’s on the year, which is what a winning formula demands of a driver in today’s Sprint Cup Competition. With the current point system, we saw a one-win Carl Edwards lead the chase right up to the last day at Homestead last year where he finally lost out to Tony Stewart by a win. This early in the season demands being well into the top ten, and the wins may come later.

Like everyone else, I am seeing an entirely different Dale Earnhardt Jr this year. A Dale Jr who understands what it will take to be a winner. I think after the death of his father, 7 time Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., Junior was lost in a sea of not knowing what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life, now he is a focused as I’ve ever seen him.

I can hear the cheers when he gets into the lead at a race, and I know Junior Nation wants to cheer him on to Victory Lane, but I think he knows that next win may be just around the corner. Maybe it will be as soon as this weekend in the place where he last drove to Victory Lane. Michigan International Speedway.

 

Photo Courtesy Getty Images For Nascar

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Tags: Carl Edwards Dale Earnhardt Jr NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tony Stewart

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