Will 2014 be Earnhardt’s year?June 25, 2014 No Comments
By: Kyle Taraska, Contributing Writer
As we approach the July 4th holiday, is it too early to start thinking about the Chase? I say not.
The season has really started to take shape after the conclusion of sixteen races. Drivers are now starting to win multiple times as our most recent winner Carl Edwards tamed his second win of the season at Sonoma this past weekend. Other than Edwards winning in the midst of his heavily-rumored departure from Roush Fenway Racing, the second biggest story of the weekend was you guessed it, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For the past fourteen years, Earnhardt has entered Napa Valley with the mentality of just surviving. Statistically, Sonoma is Earnhardt’s worse track, and he is not shy sharing how he feels about the place either. It was around 2010 when Earnhardt said he wished he had dynamite to “blow the place up.”
Regardless, Earnhardt had never finished in the Top-10 at Sonoma Raceway entering this past weekend. His previous best finish at the road course was eleventh, where he finished in three separate occasions. A new points structure helped the Hendrick Motorsports No.88 team enter Sonoma with a new mentality, “just wing it.”
With two wins in the bank, Earnhardt is already a lock in the season ending Chase for the Championship. With nothing to lose and all to gain, Earnhardt entered Sonoma relaxed as he has ever been in over a decade and a half. The team’s new approach worked as they not only helped Earnhardt to score his first career top-10 at Sonoma, but his first career top-5 with a third place finish.
Looking back on the season to date, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a won two races (Daytona 500, Pocono) and has finished second three times. With an average finish of tenth this year, everything seems to be clicking for driver eighty-eight. Not only is he consistent, but he is fast, and it may be safe to say that team has more wins in its future before the year is out.
For the first time in a decade Earnhardt has won multiple races in a season, and he is accomplishing goals as a driver that he has never been able to accomplish before. Earnhardt’s confidence is at an all-time high, and crew chief Steve Letarte, who is departing from the team at years end to join the NBC Broadcast booth in 2015, is making every race count in 2014.
The stars are starting to align in a process that started in December of 2010 on a flight to Las Vegas for NASCAR’s annual banquet. This process was set to save Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career. A promise made by Rick Hendrick and Steve Letarte years ago was to give Earnhardt his best ever chance to win a championship are finally becoming true.
That time is now, and if the team can maintain the pace they have set through the second half of the season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. may indeed be the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.Tags: Championship, Chase for the Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Editorial, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Steve LetarteCoverage