Found June 21, 2012 on Race Review Online:


Sunday was a day of profouDale Jr. winsnd jubilation for the eighth continent of the world, that is to say, Junior Nation. Official reports aren't clear as to whether or not the holiday in Junior Nation has ended, but another racing week usually has the effect of bringing things to an earthly focus again.

One of Junior's most notoriously difficult tracks (Sonoma) looms, and he'll be hard-pressed to add another tally mark to his series-leading top-10 numbers. Whatever the case, the overarching issue is far above and beyond a single win or race weekend. Is Junior a top title contender, and will he be one come Chase time?

That’s the issue at stake in this episode of Bonus Points, a weekly feature in which Sports-at-Work writers Sam Salo and Luke Krmpotich debate a current issue in NASCAR, giving their takes on the way things ought to be. Sometimes, Sam and Luke will agree; other times, they may have slightly differing opinions; and on occasion, they'll be at each other's throats.

Each writer will also assign a "flag" value to his opinion on the question: checkered flag if it's a slam dunk, green flag if he's mostly convinced, yellow flag if it's a toss-up, red flag if he's pessimistic, or black flag if he's dead set in opposition to the idea.


Luke: Is Dale Earnhardt Jr. a serious title contender? The question of his capabilities and potential as a driver is a tricky one to assess.

On the one hand, the man has the skills to get the job done. One doesn’t win 19 Cup races by accident. One the other hand, we’re talking about a driver who has one win in his past 200+ starts and hasn’t had a top-five championship finish since 2006.

On the other hand (back to the positive side of the ledger here), Junior is leading laps at his best rate in several seasons. He leads the series in top-10’s and is a mere four points behind championship leader Matt Kenseth. His relationship with crew chief Steve Letarte is strong and he has a look of confidence that’s been missing from the face of NASCAR’s most popular driver since his glory days at DEI.

All of that is very positive, but the factor that pushes me to give the green light—er, flag—to Dale Jr. is a comparison with his five-time championship winning teammate Jimmie Johnson. Junior is ahead of Johnson in the points and his worst finish is 17th. Johnson has two finishes of 35th or worse. I’m not saying the No. 88 is better than the No. 48 right now, but it’s right there.

And it’s worth pointing out that Junior’s strength stretches back to last season. Yes, I know he didn’t win any races in 2011, but he showed quiet strength and finished seventh in the standings, which was just one spot worse than Johnson managed in a down year for HMS. Thus far this year, Junior is arguably having just as fine a season as his more accomplished teammate.

Junior Nation, the party is far from over. I give a green flag to your driver’s standing as a championship-caliber driver in 2012!

Sam: That matter of prognostication is one which is somewhat independent of statistics. As a writer, one wants to look at past stats, trends, et cetera, searching for a factual basis to present to readers looking for such. In Junior's case, his past stats indicate a bit of everything. He's made the Chase, missed the Chase; he's had bad years and good years; he's been both a top-five championship finisher and a top-15 straggler.

With all of that said, it's also fair to point out that the competition level in NASCAR's top series is capable of bringing out all sorts of somewhat unexpected twists and turns. Tony Stewart rewrote 2012 analysis by going on an entirely unforeseen tear in the Chase to win the cup. The point there is that while nothing is guaranteed for Junior now, or in the Chase, it is a perfectly legitimate speculation that a driver like Junior could win the Chase this year.

The most probable barometer of Junior's likely success is this year. Simply put, it's been almost impossible for him to run anywhere outside of the top-10, and unlike the past half-decade, he has led a good number of laps in a good number of races. By all accounts, the tide has legitimately turned for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in regards to performance and consistency. Whether or not that means he will actually win the title this year is another question.  The question at hand, of course, is whether or not Junior should be qualified as a top title contender.

With a healthy dose of current statistics and trends, a look back at past brilliance and current potential, and an eye to the ever-shifting NASCAR competition which is fraught with breakout opportunity, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets the green flag of 2012 elite status.

Final analysis: Luke and Sam are in agreement. It’s a green flag of affirmation for Junior to put together a serious title run in 2012.


Fresh Off Of First Win In Four Years, Does Dale Jr. Have a Chance At His Least Favorite Track?

Something we haven't seen from Dale Jr. much over the last four years - a smile. He's officially back, will that lead to success in Sonoma? (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images). By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical Last Sunday was a moment of jubilation for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fanbase, redemption for the driver himself, and a final statement to his...

Letarte, Junior meld together well

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to one of the most consistent starts of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. So what is different for the Hendrick Motorsports driver this season? Team owner Rick Hendrick sees it simply: It's the relationship between Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte. "I think it shows the chemistry between Stevie and Dale, and they worked really hard,"...

One — Four — Three

Well folks, the 143 race winless streak is over. There is joy in Junior Nation and trust me, there is joy in NASCAR. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally getting back to Victory Lane after a long four-year drought, all is right with the world. That win last Sunday honestly has moved the needle on NASCAR exposure and interest like nothing we've seen since Trevor Bayne upset the racing...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Toyota/Save Mart 350 Preview

Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the 2012 season last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt dominated the event by leading a race-high 95 laps and taking the checkered flag with a more than five-second margin of victory. The win is Earnhardt’s 19th career victory and his second in the Cup series with Hendrick Motorsports. POINTS AFTER...

Finally, Earnhardt Jr. wins a race

I don't normally talk too much about NASCAR, but even I have to say something about Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning a race for the first time in four years. He won the Quicken Loans 400 at the same track his last win came in, Michigan International Speedway. I must say that it's good to see Earnhardt Jr. finally on the winner's circle. He is by far NASCAR's most popular...

Earnhardt brings positive attitude into Sonoma

Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads into the first road course race of the season hoping for another top-10 finish. There's one problem, though: Earnhardt has never finished higher than 11th in his previous 12 starts at Sonoma. Earnhardt is coming off a victory Sunday at Michigan that ended his four-year losing streak. He's been consistent all year and leads the Sprint Cup Series...

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Long Road

Sunday, June 17, will be remembered by Junior Nation as they day when their boy finally came home. Much like John J. did at the end of Rambo, Dale...

Martin Truex, Jr. Toyota/Save Mart 350 Preview

CORNELIUS, N.C. — No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Chad Johnston embark on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first road-course race of the season at Sonoma on Sunday. The 10-turn, 1.99-mile course is a favorite of Truex’s. Since joining Michael Waltrip Racing, the New Jersey native has been in contention to win at the track the last two races.   Last...

HAMMOND: Win Just The Beginning For Junior?

After Sunday's breakthrough in Michigan, more wins could be on the horizon for Dale Earnhardt Jr...

Backseat Drivers Fan Council

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory celebration is long over and now it’s time to look ahead. Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked to...

Hendrick credits Letarte for rebuilding Earnhardt

(Eds: With AP Photos.) By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer Rick Hendrick gave little warning to his crew chiefs when he decided to make widespread organizational changes after the 2010 season. Among the swaps? Moving Steve Letarte away from four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon after five full seasons for a daunting job - guiding Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of his lengthy slump. &...
Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.