By admin | December 5, 2012
When Dale Earnhardt, Jr signed to drive for Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, many thought it might be the beginning of a very prosperous relationship together. And indeed, the sponsorships, endorsements and merchandise sales have been highly lucrative. Trouble is, however, there hasn’t been much winning to go along with all the money making.
For fans of the popular driver, that last point has been less than pleasing and has often caused the faithful of the so called ‘Junior Nation’ to lay blame at the feet of team owner Rick Hendrick, various crew chiefs and any number of other sources.
But in 2011, things began to turn around for the son of the seven time NASCAR champion when Steve Letarte was sent to the #88 team as a replacement for crew chief Lance McGrew. Although Earnhardt didn’t win a Sprint Cup race during that campaign, he and his team clearly showed signs of improvement as they contended for several race wins and made the Chase for the Championship playoff.
As 2012 approached, it seemed like a real possibility that Junior’s Chevrolet would wind up parked in some victory lane during the course of the season based on his performance of the previous year.
Earnhardt had last won a Sprint Cup race in June of 2008 at the Michigan International Speedway, which coming into this season had been his first and only triumph for HMS. However, after close calls in Daytona, Fontana, Martinsville and Richmond early this season the fan favorite appeared poised for a breakthrough at any time.
Finally, on the very anniversary of his last win, Junior scored his second victory for HMS and the 19th of his career when he beat the field to the checkered flag again in the Irish Hills of Michigan. His legions of fans not only felt excitement over the achievement, but no doubt, a sense of relief swept through the ranks of Junior Nation when the driver’s followers had confirmation that their hero was indeed still capable of winning races.
As it turns out, that would be the only win for the #88 Chevrolet in 2012 but it did serve to show that wins are still a possibility. And after four years of drought, that had become a question in the minds of some.
But for the excitement and hope that winning brought, there was a definite downside to the 2012 season for Earnhardt. After the October race in Talladega in which he was involved in a last lap crash, Junior began to suffer from headaches. A visit to his doctor revealed concussion-like symptoms which sidelined the driver for two weeks.
In the end, Junior and his crew put together a solid season. One win along with ten top-5s and twenty top-10s is noteworthy, especially when compared against his previous four years. Now that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has shown that he can win a race, will he win more races and actually contend for a championship in 2013 and beyond?
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