NASCAR: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. Be a Contender for the Cup Series Title in 2012?

Hugo OlguinContributor IIIDecember 29, 2011

Will Earnhardt Jr. get back into victory lane?
Will Earnhardt Jr. get back into victory lane?Jason Smith/Getty Images

A big question that always looms during the NASCAR season is, will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be a serious Sprint Cup Series title contender and actually win a race?

It is a great question to ask. 

The last time Earnhardt Jr. made it to victory lane was in 2008 in Michigan, but even that win did not impress anyone.  He didn't dominate the race.  He only won based on fuel mileage.

Since 2008, Earnhardt Jr. has finished 25th (2009) and 21st (2010) in points without any wins. Then came the 2011 season.

He has been driving top notch equipment, the No.88 Chevy from Hendrick Motorsports.  People questioned his desire and car owner Rick Hendrick had the solution.  

Hendrick shifted the teams and crew chiefs around among his teams before the 2011 season. He moved crew chief Steve Letarte and Jeff Gordon's old pit crew over to Earnhardt Jr.

That move breathed new life into Earnhardt Jr. 

Letarte is known to be a motivator and full of energy.  On the radio during races, you can always hear Letarte cheering on his driver and being positive, no matter what.

The combination of Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte was one of the best moves Hendrick made in the offseason.  

Even though Earnhardt Jr. did not win in 2011, he finally was competitive again.  He finished 7th in points with four top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes.

There were finally moments where he was close to winning.  NASCAR needs Earnhardt Jr. fighting for wins.  He is still the most popular driver and people want to see him win.

In 2012, I expect him to win at least two races.  The combination of Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte together for another season will only create success.

Watch for Earnhardt Jr. to get back into victory lane and be a major player for the Sprint Cup Series title.