Dale Earnhardt Jr. had dismal NASCAR seasons since he moved to Hendrick Motor Sports. He was able to win a race at Michigan International Speedway in June of 2008 but then only made the chase two of the first four years. In 2011 Dale was paired with crew chief Steve Letarte and together they were able to get a seventh place finish in the standings. 2012 had a lot of promise for the No. 88 AMP Energy / Diet Mtn. Dew / National Guard Chevy.
Dale Jr. picked up where he was in 2011 and was well on his way to match his statistics from 2004. He was able to get the monkey off his back by ending his four year winless streak by winning again at Michigan International Speedway in June.
The No. 88 team had great finishes up until the second Pocono race where Dale had his worst finish of the season of 32nd. The next week at Watkins Glen didn’t help either when he finished 28th. It was not really a big deal as Dale had all but locked himself in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
On Aug 29th, Dale Jr. was testing the new pavement at Kansas Speedway and had a hard crash. He knew right after the crash that he wasn’t right. Dale Jr. suspected that he had a concussion but thought he could simply race his way through it. In hind sight by Dale’s own admission, it wasn’t the right call.
Dale Jr. soldiered on. He finished the next five weeks with finishes of 7th, 14th, 8th, 13th, and 11th. This string of finishes was not as good as those he had been posting but they were not bad. Then what looked like a typical crash at Talladega aggravated his concussion. That is where Dale Jr. realized he had made a mistake back in September and was not as well as he thought. He couldn’t simply race his way to make himself better. Dale Jr. had to sit out the next two races guaranteeing himself a twelve place finish in the Chase.
2004 was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He had six wins, 16 top five finishes and 21 top ten finishes. Dale led 1131 laps that year on his way to a disappointing statistic wise finish of fifth in the standings. This year was looking to match that type of season with the exception of laps led. Dale had one win, ten top five finishes and 20 top ten finishes in spite of missing two races.
Next year look for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be healthy. Dale Jr., Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team will be stronger than ever for the experience and will be back in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2013.