Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly started the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series perfectly this year. After winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career, Earnhardt and his crew headed across country with the rest of the teams for Phoenix International Speedway. It was there that racing’s most popular driver followed behind Kevin Harvick for nearly two hours, only to come up half a second short of back-to-back trips to victory lane.
As happy as it would have made me and Jr. Nation to see that No. 88 car in victory lane for consecutive races, there is a bigger goal in mind for both Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte: Win the Sprint Cup Championship. So, that runner-up finish at Phoenix pails in comparison to the bigger picture.
The season is off to a fast start as Earnhardt’s strong finish to 2013 carried over and has the driver at the top of the points standings. However, the new chase system implemented by NASCAR may make it tougher for Junior to accomplish his goal of a championship or if might be in his favor. All of a sudden, consistency has become Junior’s middle name and it might also be the key to the ultimate title.
Dating back to last season, Junior has finished in the top-five seven out of 10 races, including four second place finishes. It used to be that he was only good at certain tracks and you could expect him in the wall at others, but now he has shown strength from the short tracks to the super-speedways. As disappointing as it was to watch Earnhardt finish second again, it still is a great start and great confidence builder. Right now, Junior is easily the favorite to win the Sprint Cup, and this may be his best chance yet.
Shane Phillips is a NASCAR Writer for RantSports.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneRantSports, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also email Shane at ShaneRantNBA@gmail.com.