I was very impressed with what I saw from NASCAR’s most popular driver in the 2012 Sprint Cup Season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. went from a person who was blaming everyone and everybody for his failures on the race track, to a driver who was finally in control of his life, and his legacy. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s success in 2012 appears to coincide with the addition of Steve Letarte to his pit box late in the 2011 season. Being a Jeff Gordon fan, I was upset when Mr. Hendrick made the switch, but it seems to have made both teams stronger, and who would question an owner who has over 200 wins, and the most successful organization in NASCAR.
What we saw in 2012 was a youngster who had been devastated by the death of his father at the 2001 Daytona 500, come to grips with reality, and make the decision that he indeed wanted to be a stock car driver again. That aspect came through in every interview he made in 2012, and gave me the confidence that he was on the road to recovery, and would again be a factor to deal with on the race track.
After a disappointing finish to the season, where Dale Jr. finished in 12th place after being at, or near the top of the points standings for the lion’s share of the season, the question is, can the maturity and winning continue in 2013? I believe it will. He had some bad luck down the stretch, but I think he will rebound, and we will see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane multiple times in the upcoming season. With the success he has had on the super speedways, I look for it start at Daytona with SpeedWeek.
Most of the race teams will struggle at the start of the season while everyone gets a handle on the new car that NASCAR is bringing to the track, but Dale Jr. has been part of the testing procedure, and I can see the Mountain Dew Chevy getting off to a good start when the season kicks off in Daytona. I look for him to flex his muscle at the Shootout where he has two wins on his resume, and continue through the season. I know he is anxious to show us that his win at Michigan last June was not a fluke.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to NASCAR what Tiger Woods is to Professional Golf. He brings fans to the television set, and the race track like no one else in the sport can. He is a polarizing figure that NASCAR needs if the popularity of the sport is going to return to the glory days of the late 90’s.
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