Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t have the kind of start he wanted. After staying in the thick of things in the Sprint Cup standings for much of the season, his no. 88 car had engine failure at the worst possible time in Chicago last week, where he finished 35th and is now 53 points back of first place.
You can almost make the point that if Earnhardt Jr. has another DNF, his championship aspirations this year are over. The no. 88 team is going to have to be near flawless from here on out. And they all know it.
To get himself back in title contention, Earnhardt Jr. is going to have to finish in the top five, which will be a tall order. At this point in Earnhardt Jr.’s career, the only thing that will be acceptable for himself and his supporters will be a championship.
Earnhardt Jr.’s goal signing with Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 was to step his game up. He has had good cars almost every week over the last two years, and he is certainly a talented driver. But you have to wonder at this point if he is feeling the pressure is mounting.
I expect Earnhardt Jr. to win a championship by the time his career is done, but to do so this year in the chase is a very improbable task.