Earnhardt really IS close to victory — and the stats prove it

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Filed under: Dale Earnhardt Jr 


The following is a guest post.

 

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

 

RICHMOND, Va. — One of these days — and that day may come very soon — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win a Sprint Cup race and put an end to what several writers have facetiously called NASCAR’s “long national nightmare.”

 

Earnhardt last tasted victory in the Cup series on June 15, 2008 at Michigan, not quite halfway through the first year of a lucrative contract with Hendrick Motorsports.

 

Since that race, Earnhardt has changed crew chiefs twice, a testament to his struggles to master the new racecar NASCAR introduced in 2007 and incorporated into the series full-time in 2008. He finished 25th in the final standings in 2009 and 21st in 2010.

 

When owner Rick Hendrick’s bold reshuffling of personnel after the 2010 season matched Earnhardt with Steve Letarte, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, Earnhardt’s performance improved. In 2011, he qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time since 2008 and ended the season seventh in the standings.

 

Earnhardt’s performance this year has put to rest any notion that last year’s success with Letarte was merely the sort of honeymoon that sometimes accompanies a crew chief change. Yes, Earnhardt’s winless streak grew to 138 races Saturday night at Richmond, but consider the rest of the story.

 

Since his last victory in 2008, Earnhardt has finished second seven times and third four times. Two of those runner-up finishes have come this year, most recently on Saturday night. Likewise, Earnhardt has fashioned two of his third-place runs this season, giving him four top-three finishes in nine races this year.

 

In seven of nine races, he has finished in the top 10. As a measure of his consistency this season, Earnhardt’s WORST finish this season is a 15th at Bristol. In the third race of the season, at Las Vegas, Earnhardt led more laps (70) than he had all last year (52).

 

Saturday night’s runner-up finish propelled Earnhardt to second in the Cup standings, five points behind series leader Greg Biffle.

 

All the numbers argue that Earnhardt is every bit as close to a breakthrough win as he believes he is.

 

A newfound maturity behind the wheel is part of the equation. When Hendrick announced the pairing with Letarte, one of Earnhardt’s first reactions was that he would have to tone down his language on the radio — because Letarte’s wife and children would be listening.

 

As a consequence, the invective that permeated Earnhardt’s radio chatter with cousin Tony Eury Jr., who served as crew chief until mid-2009, has all but disappeared.

 

“I’ve always been uncensored, (but) I think I’ve gotten a lot better since working with Steve,” Earnhardt said Friday before opening practice at Richmond. “Obviously, Steve is not family, and there are things you can say to your family, and you won’t say those things to other people.”

 

Instead of cussing his car, Earnhardt has learned to choose his words more carefully, and the quality of his feedback has improved.

 

“He’s definitely made me more accountable . . . for the words I choose to use and how I choose to describe the car to him,” Earnhardt said of his crew chief. “He’s not going to put up with me verbally abusing him or the equipment. I wouldn’t expect anything less than him being a professional as well.”

 

The performance on the racetrack is a litmus test of just how proficient the driver/crew chief collaboration has become.

 

When Rick Hendrick hired Earnhardt in 2008, his stated goal was to win races and championships. Those who scoffed at the notion and insisted that Earnhardt was merely a cash cow with a gift for moving merchandise from his fleet of trackside trailers are about to stop laughing.

 

Earnhardt will win a race this season, sooner rather than later, and he’ll likely win more than one. Hendrick will get his coveted 200th Cup win, and Earnhardt may be the one to deliver it.

 

That achievement would pale in comparison, however, to an 11th Cup title for the organization. Given the consistency of Earnhardt’s performance this year, seats at the head table for the Sprint Cup awards banquet aren’t out of the question for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet and his crew chief.

 

Have an opinion on this? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

Comments

22 Comments on Earnhardt really IS close to victory — and the stats prove it

  1. Dora Rhodes on
  2. I enjoyed this article. It is positive. Thank you Reid from along time Jr. fan.

  3. Mama Donia on
  4. I think Jr. is sooo much more relaxed these days, than he has been for a long time, maybe Amy has something to do with that, he said something to the effect that his brakes had given out on him earlier, maybe he would have won last night if they had stayed good, he said that he couldn’t get into the corners,there at the last, without the rear end of his car jumping sideways. I think he is sooooo close to winning again and maybe this will be his year for a championship, we sure hope so. Remember he is only 5 points out of first. GO JUNEBUG, WE LOVE YA!!!!!

  5. Mavis Rideout on
  6. Good article. I hope that win comes soon so then I can relax more during races. Also I can quit voting every day for the all star race. I have trouble getting that ‘captcha’ right. Go Jr. a win at Talledega would be nice!!!!!

  7. brenda on
  8. WAY TO GO DALE JR ON SUCH A GOOD FINISH LAST NIGHT. HANG IN THROUGH, YOUR WIN IS COMING SOON. GO GO 88

    Glad you enjoyed it Dora.

    Relaxed is the right word — and confident.

    Talladega can be a wild race but Junior runs well there. Those captchas do drive me crazy.

  9. Greg Overstreet on
  10. Just hang in there dale,this is your year for winning!!!!!!!!! You’ve come a long way the last few years.GO #88 we’ll be rooting for u as always since u first starting racing!!!!!!!!! Greg O.

  11. rhonette on
  12. JR, U DID A GREAT JOB AND I KNOW IF UR BRAKES WOULD HAVE NOT MESSED UP U WOULD HAVE WON, BUT THIS IS JUST THE START!!!!!!! IT WANT B LONG AND U WILL WIN THEM ALL. KEEP UR ATTUIDE JUST LIKE IT IS, CAUSE U R THE BEST RACE CAR DRIVER (WIN OR LOOSE) UR OUR JUNEBUG AND US JR. NATION FANS WILL ALWAYS STICK BY U , HEY U CAN WIN AND DONT HAVE TO CHEAT NEITHER!!!!! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND DONT SWEAT THE CHEATERS AND HATERS CAUSE U THE ONLY 1 THAT COUNTS…..

    LOVE U JR.MUAH…………..

  13. Penny on
  14. Excellent story thank you so much for all the positives. Loved it. Nice to hear someone write a nice positive story. Again, thank you.

  15. Willard and Jean West on
  16. The article is good and we agree Dale, Jr. is ending up closer to the front in most of the 2012 season races. The Richmond race was a good race, and agree if those brakes had not failed the 88 driver, he probably would have won he race, but Talledega is next and maybe this will be the 200th win for Rick and the number 88 will be in winnr’s circle……….Go Dale, Jr.!!!!!!!!!!!! OUR MOST FAVORITE DRIVER.

  17. danger granger on
  18. COMING…THIS WEEKEND…TALLADEGA…JR. WINS…NUFF SAID !

  19. Patrick Smith on
  20. It is good to see that June Bug has not given up on himself. He has had a tough run for the past four years. Hang in there, you still have loyal fans. I was fan of Dale Sr. for many years and will be a fan of Jr.’s for many more.

  21. eaeline on
  22. Go Dale jr. I admire you so much. Any one that can keep it together at Daytonia racing where he lost his dad is a hero to me. My daughter that pased away cried her eyes out over the #3 . She had the number on her back wind shield until she passed in 2004. I bett she is in Heaven with Dale sr. guiding your race to win for 2012. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Dale Jr. has had a smile on his face recently due to the positive support he gets from Steve and the millions of dedicated fans that have never given up on his goal to get that win that has been there and getting closer each weekend.
    2012 is his year !!!!!!

  23. Helen Noe on
  24. My birthday is next Sunday and they are racing at Talladega. The last time there was a race on my birthday, Jr. won. So I am looking forward to this race in the hopes that Jr. will win. Jr. has been really consistent this year which is what is needed to win the championship. No matter how he does, he is still my favorite driver.

  25. Mary on
  26. Wonderful article. Keep up the great work with your articles and info. I do think that JRs win is coming really soon. What a change from last season. Again, keep up the great job!!!!!!!!!! I just love getting email from RacingWin.

  27. mary ann Minnich on
  28. I agree with everyone. Hang in there Jr your win is right around the corner. I think Hendricks was smart when he made Steve Latarte his crew chief. It is only a matter of time when he wins. I am a huge Jr Fan.

    I also think this is Jr’s year to win. He has run some pretty good races so far this year. He seems more confident also. I belive he will win soon. then maybe he will shave that awful beard. he has such a handsome face it is not right to hide it under all that hair. YOU GO JR. DRIVE THE WHEELS OFF THAT 88. LOVE YOU JUNEBUG, BOOGIDY, BOOGIDY BOOGIDY, LETS GO RACING..

  29. lady red on
  30. Jr. looks like the racer of old! Steve is the best thing to happen to him in a long time. He finally has a crew chief he can respect and listen to….Talladega belongs to Jr.!

  31. kimmer on
  32. lets all remember terry labonte won the championship and did not win a race that year… you go JR

  33. shortime on
  34. Jr routinely takes the same ole rap each year for being up front in the BRIAN & BOYZ POINTS SYSTEM no matter which one it is at the time. But, my friends—Aint gonna happen this time!!! Jr’s got it going on now and that win will come before you know it.

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