The Frontstretch: 2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by Mike Neff -- Saturday December 7, 2013

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2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Mike Neff · Saturday December 7, 2013


2013 Ride: No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2013 Primary Sponsors: Army National Guard, Diet Mountain Dew/AMP Energy, Time Warner Cable
2013 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2013 Crew Chief: Steve Letarte

Stats: 36 starts, 2 poles, 0 wins, 10 top 5s, 22 top 10s, 3 DNF, 5th in points
Best Finish: 2nd five times (Daytona – Feb., Fontana, Dover – Sept., Talladega – Oct., Texas – Nov.)
Average Start: 13.9.
Average Finish: 12.6.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

2013 Team Ranking: 2nd out of 4. While Jeff Gordon won a race, Earnhardt had more top 5s and top 10s. He finished one spot ahead of Gordon in the standings, completed more laps and earned $1,800 more in prize money.

High Point: A second place finish in the Daytona 500 would be a highlight on most drivers’ list if they didn’t win a race during the season. For a former winner of the race who has finished runner-up in the event three of the last four years, it isn’t that high of a point. For Earnhardt the end of his season was the high point without a doubt. Over the final five races he scored four top 4 finishes and ended the year fifth in the point standings. Earnhardt wrapped up the year with eight finishes in the top 8 over the final 10 races and, were it not for the failed engine at Chicago, would have most likely ended the year in the top three in points.

Low Point: Making the Chase is a goal for every driver and then running well once you’re there is what all drivers expect. Earnhardt made the Chase with two top 10 finishes in the five races leading up to Chicago. They were heading toward a good finish at Chicago, staring 18th and spending most of the first half of the race in the top 10, before the engine started going south. In the end it was a 35th place finish and it torpedoed any thoughts that Earnhardt had of winning a title. While they came back and only had one other finish outside of the top 8 the DNF at Chicago simply put them too far behind to overcome and win a title.

Summary: People have been waiting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be relevant again in the discussion about title contenders in the Sprint Cup series. In 2013 he stepped back into that discussion. While he didn’t manage to win a race he finished second five times, which was second among all drivers in the series. There were multiple races this season where Earnhardt likely had the best car on the track at the end of the event and circumstances conspired against him to win the race.

The positive angle of the entire season is that Earnhardt ran extremely well in the Chase races. The engine failure at Chicago could not be avoided but Charlotte was the only other race where Earnhardt didn’t finish in the top eight. With a little luck the No. 88 would have been in the discussion heading into Homestead-Miami.

Off-Track News: Dale Jr. has known for a long time that maximizing on his popularity off of the track can provide him with more financial success and security than his on track success. In 2013 Earnhardt continued to expand the reach of his brand by introducing Dale Jr. chips with Barrel O’ Fun snacks. The initial release encompassed four flavors: Crispy Original, Carolina Barbecue, Creole & Green Onion, and Zesty Jalapeno.

Earnhardt also launched a new, podcast-style radio show with JR Motorsports called Dirty Mo radio. The programming is available from Earnhardt’s web site, as well as, podcast outlets like iTunes. While the programs will have some racing content they will also focus on Earnhardt’s other interests like music and sports.

Earnhardt also continued to use his notoriety for public service as he joined forces with Sprint to promote their Drive First App. The app sends automated responses while a person is driving so that they will not be distracted. Earnhardt’s participation included commercials and at track activation.

2014 Outlook: Coming off of a fifth place finish in points with four top five finishes in the last five races the table is set for a title run in 2014. Earnhardt’s team was running in the front of the pack for most of the season and was in contention for several wins. After back-to-back seasons with 10 top 5 finishes the 2014 season is poised to be a year when Earnhardt could finally score the title that so many people wonder if he will ever be able to score.

*2007 Grade: * D. *2008 Grade: * C+. *2009 Grade: * D. *2010 Grade: * D+. *2011 Grade: * B-. *2012 Grade: * A-. *2013 Grade: * A. Earnhardt’s season was one of his strongest since 2004 when he won six races and finished fifth in points. He was in contention for several wins and was second in the series in runner-up finishes. Without the engine failure at Chicago he would have been mathematically eligible for title at Homestead and would have been in the hunt for the runner-up spot until the checkered flag. Being second to Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports isn’t a bad finish for the season.

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