By admin | March 13, 2011
By Richard Allen
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only three races old. So to make a judgment about any driver or team would be, to at least some degree, out of line. That is true about those at the bottom of the standings as well as those at the top.
However, the first three races do offer a glimpse at possible trends. So far there has been a race on a 2.5 mile restrictor plate track, a one-mile short/intermediate track and a 1.5 mile cookie cutter. Those three tracks provide somewhat of a microcosm of the schedule as a whole.
With all that said, NASCARâ€™s most popular driver has made strides toward living up to that popularity in the seasonâ€™s first three races. Two top-10 runs have helped place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the tenth spot in the Sprint Cup standings. Now again, a word of caution to â€˜Junior Nationâ€™ is to not go out and buy tickets for the final ten races of the season based solely on these early season results. However, there are a couple of things that do seem to indicate Junior might well be poised to show improvement over his last two seasons.
In the Daytona 500, Juniorâ€™s car was fast and he appeared to have a shot at ending his day in victory lane until a late race crash sent him to the garage before the raceâ€™s conclusion. But, he has typically been a contender on the restrictor plate tracks even during the lowest of times in his career so a solid run in Daytona does not really prove much.
Where Junior has shown evidence of a possible turnaround has been on the tracks in Phoenix and Las Vegas. In both of those races he posted a poor qualifying run and experienced a bit of adversity early. Last year that would have added up to a long day of bickering with the crew chief over the radio and a disastrous finish. This year, he has been able to rebound within those races and post solid top-10s.
When Junior moved from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports many expected great things from him. Quite simply, he has not delivered. And as a result of his lack of production, his confidence has clearly suffered. He has admitted as much on more than one occasion. However, the off season pairing with upbeat crew chief Steve Letarte seems to be helping to restore this driverâ€™s faith in his own abilities.
What remains to be seen is whether Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can make it back all the way to the status of consistent race winner and championship contender. As a member of Hendrick Motorsports, that is where he is supposed to be. There are thirty-three races left in the 2011 season to see if a little confidence can fully turn around what once looked like a promising career for this 36 year old third generation driver.
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