By admin | January 22, 2013
By Richard Allen
Throughout the month of January, I will be running a series on the 12 drivers I am predicting to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the 2013 NASCAR season. The first eleven articles will be placed in no particular order but the final piece written in the series will be on the driver I am selecting as the favorite to win this year’s championship. Half of these pieces will be placed on my own RacingWithRich.com site and half will be placed on BleacherReport.com. Please consider following along on both websites and adding your own thoughts in the “comments” sections below each piece.
He did it! Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally won a race in 2012 after having gone since 2008 without a visit to a Sprint Cup victory lane. Now, the challenge for NASCAR’s most popular driver is to go from a single race winner to a serious threat to win multiple races and contend for a championship.
Last year, Junior found something that he had been lacking for quite some time, if not for his entire career. And that something was consistency. Aside from his lone win, the driver of the No. 88 amassed 10 top-5 finishes in 2012. That exceeded the number of top-5s he had scored over the last three seasons combined.
The relationship between the driver and crew chief Steve Letarte seemed to bring out the best in each as Junior ran near the front in multiple races throughout the year. And unlike previous seasons, their car seemed to improve during each race rather than deteriorate to the point of being out of contention by the end of the day.
“Steve Letarte is the main reason,” Earnhardt said last year when asked about running better. “All the reasons we’ve run good kind of reference to him. He puts a good team around me, a lot of good guys there working together, working as a group, everybody pulling in the same direction. That is a result of his doing. He has been able to help me, as a driver, evolve into a better race car driver, a more productive driver.”
However, there was a major drawback to the No. 88 team’s success last year. After experiencing a hard crash during testing in Kansas then being caught up in the multi-car melee on the final lap in Talladega, it was discovered that Junior had suffered a concussion. The injury caused him to miss two starts and ended any hope of a championship.
After recent studies conducted on the dangers of concussions, one has to believe that another head injury could potentially lead to more missed races. That has to cause at least some degree of concern for officials from Hendrick Motorsports, their sponsors and even NASCAR.
But the main focus for this driver and team should not be on concussions, but rather on maintaining and even exceeding the level of success achieved last year. I believe they will be able to at least maintain.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in 2013. But, he is not my pick to win the big trophy.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow along with his Chase for the Sprint Cup series by clicking on the driver of your choice Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
Good at picking race winners? Follow @RacingWithRich on Twitter and then Click here to find out how you could win $25 by correctly predicting the winner of the Daytona 500.
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