Dale Jr. losing streak unfortunately continues

Credit: Genevieve Cadorette
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won a race since his 2008 victory in Michigan on Father’s Day. Today, he started the race with 107 losses, but he qualified 15th and it wasn’t long before the green and white No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet Impala moved into the top 10.

Press and fans alike have hoped that today would put an end to his losing streak, but he didn't. He crashed today when Mark Martin got loose underneath him; they collided and he drove into the wall, cutting the right front tire and causing the sixth caution of the race, with approximately 14 laps to go before the checkered flag. Earnhardt finished in 21st. Today was his worst finish since Daytona, but he still gained 23 points and he holds onto his third position in points. He's now two spots ahead of his teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt left his late legendary father’s shop and team Dale Earnhardt Inc., the Budweiser sponsor and the No. 8 car after the 2007 season. At that point, he was on a 62-race losing streak. The streak broke with his first race with Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt Jr. won the 2008 Bud Shootout and he didn't win again until June 2008, making Father’s Day even sweeter for the Earnhardt family. With hopes that his luck would continue to change for the best after joining Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears at Hendrick Motorsports, Junior had not been ready for the downward spiral his career would take. Neither would his teammate Mears - he was then replaced by Mark Martin, who would join Earnhardt Jr. in the 5/88 garage.

Although Earnhardt Jr. won his eighth consecutive Most Popular Award in 2010, his racing on the track to that point hasn’t been so successful. Fortunately, Junior Nation is loyal and committed regardless of their favorite driver's luck on the track.

Earnhardt Jr. did not qualify for the Chase for the Championship for two seasons after joining HMS. In 2011, despite a successful start to his season, which included winning the Bud Shootout pole and the Daytona 500 pole that very same weekend, as well as strong finishes, he didn’t qualify for the All-Star Race for the first time since his rookie season. With hopes he’d win a race, his fans voted for him daily, more than once a day; some voted every hour on the hour and if they voted on their cell phones, they could vote repeatedly. His VH1 Save the Music car didn’t win the Showdown that Saturday afternoon before the All-Star Race, but to his credit, he won the All Star Fan vote. It was the highest calculated count of votes, with 2.4 million votes. Earnhardt went on to finished 14th for that non-points race.

The 2011 season has been impressive. There’s hope and it’s also realistic that he may even qualify for, if not win the championship.

After the end of the 2010 season, Hendrick announced a crew chief swap for Earnhardt and teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. Dale would then be paired with Steve Letarte, Gordon’s former crew chief.

Fans couldn’t have been more excited and fortunately, the change proved to be a good one. Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. work well together; they have stronger communication and reports have said that Earnhardt Jr. is more focused during team meetings with his crew chief. Instead of text messages and emails, Earnhardt Jr. now sits with Letarte in the same room before and after a race to discuss what happened on the track. A reporter even wrote an article after the Richmond race that Earnhardt Jr. refused an after-race interview for the first time in a long time; he walked into his hauler with his team and his PR representative shook their heads, stopping the press from questioning him. He finished 19th at that race.

It’s important to remember that Earnhardt Jr. is also a team owner. His company JR Motorsports, where he owns three Nationwide cars and a Late Modified car, has a promising season. His drivers Josh Wise and Aric Almirola are in the top 11 in Nationwide points and are aiming for the championship. His late model driver, Josh Berry, won his first race this past spring and there’s no ignoring his most famous driver, Danica Patrick. She is not the first female driver in the Nationwide Series, but she’s the first one to have finished in fourth position, which happened in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Earnhardt Jr. is also the owner of a bar in Charlotte, N.C., the Whisky River, which is a hot spot for the college crowds, locals and tourists in Uptown Charlotte.

It’s clear that a better relationship with his crew chief is helping his confidence and lifting his spirit and leading to higher finishes, as it’s also clear that Earnhardt Jr. now has better and faster cars. Could the success of JRM and Whisky River be an added relief and a brick off Earnhardt Jr.’s shoulders so he can now focus completely on his racing?

A victory does await the 88 team, and media, fans, competitive drivers and non-fans have mentioned that a win for Earnhardt Jr. will be good for him and the sport. He was heard telling reporters that he needed to qualify better so that he wouldn’t have to work so hard to get up front in time to finish the race. Earnhardt Jr. has started the races deep in the back of the pack but has quickly moved ahead in all of those races. In Martinsville, he led 17 laps and gave fans hope he’d actually win, but competitor Kevin Harvick snuck up behind him and finished in first.

Talladega was a good race where he started in fourth with his teammates in the first two rows. He and Johnson worked together in the draft and it was Earnhardt Jr. who decided that Johnson had the better car and he pushed him to the finish line in first place, a close call with Bowyer in second, Gordon in third, Earnhardt in 4th, Harvick in 5th and Martin in 8th spot. It was the first time the entire HMS team started in the top four spots and finished in the top 10; their team owner, Rick Hendrick, also told reporter that it was also the first time he brought all four cars home from ‘Dega in one piece.

In Charlotte, during the Coca Cola 600, Earnhardt Jr. restarted the final lap in the front row and when Kasey Kahne ran out of fuel, he led the race until the third turn, where he too ran out of fuel and once again, Harvick moved ahead of him for a first-place finish.

Earnhardt has been in the top five for points since Richmond; after holding onto a fourth-place standing for eight weeks in a row, he moved up to third in points.

What will happen in the coming weeks for him and will Junior be able to end his season in the top spot?
Dale Jr. losing streak unfortunately continues Dale Jr. losing streak unfortunately continues Reviewed by Unknown on Sunday, June 19, 2011 Rating: 5