He started off this season with a bang. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver 11 times over, won the most coveted race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season – the Daytona 500.
With the new rule changes made to the Chase (NASCAR’s playoff system) that started this season, that win guaranteed Earnhardt a place in the Chase, the last 10 races of the year.
He continued to lead the point standings for a good part of the season, and is currently in second place (he was in third place before the Coke Zero 400 this past weekend at Daytona, but advanced a spot after a 14th place finish), only 27 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.
In 18 starts so far, he has two wins, nine top 5′s (the most of any Cup driver this season), and twelve top 10′s, but had one DNF (did not finish) in Texas at the Duck Commander 500 because of an accident – wrong place, wrong time, a victim of circumstance.
So, what should we expect to see this coming weekend at New Hampshire Speedway in Louden, NH? A top five, if not a win. Why? Even though Junior has never won a race at that venue, he has two top 10′s and an average finish of ninth.
Early last month, Dale did some testing at Louden in preparation for this weekend’s race. After the session, Junior said “We went to New Hampshire trying to find that little bit extra as a whole group. You only get four tests from which to choose and the whole company has to agree on where we’re going. It’s a company-wide initiative to try and improve, so I think it says a lot that we chose New Hampshire as one of those tests.”
DaleJr.com reports that “in 29 Cup starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has led 368 laps en route to seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He has an average start of 16.0 at the 1.058-mile oval and an average finish of 15.7.”
It continues that “according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt is ranked fifth in the driver rating category at New Hampshire with a score of 97.3 during the past 18 races at the track. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.”
The numbers speak for themselves – he has a legitimate shot at his third win of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Flat tracks, like Louden, are something statistically that Dale Jr. performs well at. He has an average finish of eighth at those tracks, with one win, which happens to be his second win of the 2014 season – the Pocono 400.
What’s even better if you are a fan of the 88? The next three races are all at flat tracks – Louden, Indy, and once again, back at Pocono.
In the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup season, Junior had his most winning season with six, yes six, wins. Will he have six this season? Can he win four more races with the season being half complete? It’s certainly possible. At Pocono in his post-race interviews, Earnhardt said that he wants to continue to win, and someone else that wants more wins? Crew Chief Steve Letarte. It’s Letarte’s last season leading the helm in the 88 camp for Hendrick Motorsports. In 2015, he will join the NBC Sports’ broadcast team. The more wins, the better.
Look for Junior to get back into the points lead soon, too. Not only is he hungry for more wins, he wants the ultimate win – the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.