Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Bold Track by Track Predictions for His 2012 Season
It's been a long dry spell for those waiting to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. return to Victory Lane. NASCAR, along with Junior Nation, has been watching race after race pass into history and he remains winless.
The count now stands at 129 races since his last race win in 2008 at Michigan International Speedway.
The good news is that his less than stellar seasons of 2009 and 2010 ended when Rick Hendrick matched Junior with crew chief Steve Letarte in 2011.
The two bonded with great chemistry and friendship. Letarte is a tough taskmaster though, and it was just what his driver needed.
Earnhardt nearly won a couple races, made the Chase and finished seventh in the final point standings last season.
Hendrick Motorsports is a cohesive powerhouse with a stable of four drivers that may have as much potential to win as there has ever been at HMS.
There is a comradery among the drivers, with each driven to bring Hendrick his upcoming 200th win and more championships.
Earnhardt seems to have gotten his groove back, and is in a happy place personally and professionally which should translate to performance under the guidance of Letarte.
There are tracks that are good and not so good for every driver. In this slideshow we will take a look at how Earnhardt should perform and make bold predictions as to how he will finish.
Tracks are listed in alphabetical order.
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes and does pretty well on. The intermediate track was the sight of one of his wins as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Since coming to Hendrick Motorsports, his best finish is third and his worst is 22nd with an average finish of 12.8 at the track.
In 24 starts at the Georgia track, Junior has led 632 laps and captured one pole as an HMS driver.
With 10 top-10 finishes at AMS, look for him to add to that total when Labor Day Weekend rolls around this year.
He will finish in the top three and it may be another marker in the win column for him.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Junior is an old-school racer who likes to have to really drive a car and the track billed as the "World's Fastest Half Mile" is one of his favorite places to race.
He has a win under the DEI banner and 12 top-10 finishes at BMS. His average finishing position at this short track is 11.7
Barring the highly likely chance of damage to his car from the close racing, look for Dale Jr. to better his performance over the past few years.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finish eighth or ninth in the first, and fifth or sixth in the late summer race.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading on the last turn of the last lap of the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 when his car sputtered and his shortage of fuel caused him to finish in the seventh place slot.
The driver of the Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard No. 88 may be out for revenge when Memorial Day weekend rolls around this year.
He has not won at this track, but has 10 top-10 finishes, two of which has been with Hendrick Motorsports. His average finish at CMS is 19.4.
Look for him to finish fourth or better in the 600, with a win not out of the question, and just out of the top ten during the fall race.
Chicagoland Speedway is an intermediate 1.5-mile track where Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a win with DEI and finished third in 2011.
He has led 121 laps at this track and has an average finish of 14.8
Look for Junior to finish in the top five—a win just might come here if his season is going at least as well as it was last year.
The Darlington stripe is no stranger to the driver of the No. 88. He has never won at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track.
He has finished in the top 10 seven times, one of which was with Hendrick Motorsports. The last three years he has bettered his finishes with 27th in 2009, 18th in 2010 and 14th during the 2011 race.
This is a driver's track and it appears Junior has gotten a handle on the COT. He should continue to improve his finishes this year and he will be in the top 10.
The prediction is that he will finish seventh or eighth when the checkered flag waves.
Daytona International Speedway
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked strong in the Budweiser Shootout, but got caught up in a crash. This is a track that Junior likes, but he knows it is a crapshoot with most of the field having a shot at the win if the cards fall right.
The driver of the No. 88 has two wins at Daytona with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Four of his 13 top-10 finishes have come during his stint with Hendrick Motorsports. His average finish overall at Daytona is 15.0.
He started on the pole last year, but a crash relegated him to a 24th place finish.
The next win by a Hendrick Motorsports driver will be the 200th. It is a major milestone for his boss, Rick Hendrick.
Dale Jr. will win the upcoming "Great American Race."
Dover International Speedway
The "Monster Mile" concrete track is the sight of one win for Dale Jr. when he raced for DEI. He has finished in the top 10 seven times, but his best finish with HMS is 12th.
Earnhardt has led 367 laps at Dover and has an average finish of 18.0.
Look for Junior to finish around 15th in the first race of the year and out of the top 20 during the Chase race in the fall.
Fontana- Auto Club Speedway
Auto Club Speedway is not one of Dale Jr.'s better tracks. He has never won at this track and has four top-10 finishes that date back to his DEI days. His best finish with Hendrick Motorsports is 11th.
He has only led 28 laps in Fontana, but the last two years he has improved a bit with a 16th place finish in 2010 and 12th in 2011. His average finish is 21.7.
It is doubtful he will lead any laps at this track during the 2012 season and he will likely finish out of the top 10, probably around 12th or 13th place.
The sight of the season finale in south Florida is a track that isn't especially good for Earnhardt. He has led 93 laps, but his average finish is 23.1. Needless to say, he has never won at this 1.5-mile oval.
His best finish was 11th in the No. 88 during last season. With this being the sight of the possible fight for the title, look for Junior to finish out of the top 10.
The prediction is that he will finish between 12th and 15th this year.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The flat 2.5-mile oval is another track that isn't especially good for Earnhardt. His best finish as an HMS driver was 12th.
He has only led 61 laps and his average finish is 21.7.
The prediction for Junior's finish at the 2012 Brickyard 400 is between 14th and 17th place.
Junior has never won at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, but he did finish second in the first race of the season in 2011.
He has led 81 laps and has a total of five top-10 finishes. His average finish is 17.2.
Prediction is a top-10 finish for the first race, likely around sixth position and during the Chase he should finish around 12th to 14th place.
It is hard to predict how Earnhardt will perform at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway since there has only been the inaugural race last season where he started 29th and finished 30th.
He failed to lead any laps in 2011 and he won't lead any laps at this track in 2012.
The prediction is that he will improve, but finish barely in the top 20, likely around 18th place.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway can be a good intermediate track for Dale Jr. He has not won there, but has an average finish of 16.8.
He has five top-10 finishes with a second place finish in 2008 and eighth in 2011. Junior has led 162 laps at this track.
The prediction is that he will get a top-five finish this year, but he will not win the race.
Junior gets back to old-school racing at the shortest track on the Cup schedule. He has not won there yet, but has 13 top-10 finishes, six of which have been with Hendrick Motorsports.
He has led 865 laps at Martinsville with an average finish of 13.0. During the 2011 season, he finished second and seventh.
The prediction is that he may get a win, and he will finish in the top three for the first race and probably ninth or tenth in the fall.
Michigan International Speedway
Michigan is a fast track that often has long green runs. This is the sight of Junior's last win back in 2008. He has eight top-10 finishes, six of which have been with Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt has led a total of 173 laps here and has an average finish of 15.8.
The key to a good finish at Michigan is to qualify well. If he can start in the top 10, he may well get a top-five finish. If he qualifies 20th or worse, he will likely finish about the same.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The flat New Hampshire mile in Loudon is another track where qualifying well is important for a strong finish.
Earnhardt has led 351 laps here with an average finish of 16.7. He has not won a race at Loudon, but has 10 top-10 finishes, three of which have been with a HMS car.
In 2010 he finished eighth and fourth, but in 2011 he finished 15th and 17th.
If Junior can qualify near the top 10 he should finish the same. He probably will not finish better than fifth and won't win here.
If he qualifies poorly, look for him to finish just inside the top 20.
Phoenix International Raceway
During NASCAR Media Day at Daytona, Earnhardt talked about the importance of winning the Daytona 500, but expressed his desire to get to Phoenix where the drivers have more control over their destiny.
Junior won twice with his DEI car at this track. He has eight top-10 finishes, three have been with Hendrick Motorsports and his average finish is 18.3.
In 19 starts he has led 460 laps. Now that the track has been reconfigured and repaved, he may not run as well as he did on the old surface.
Look for him to finish inside the top 10 in the first race, probably around 7th place, and he will likely finish around 10th place in the second race of 2012.
Earnhardt has never won at the 2.5-mile tri-oval Pocono track, but he has eight top-10 finishes with three coming at Hendrick Motorsports.
He has only led 98 laps here and his average finish is 17.0. In 2011 he finished sixth and ninth respectively at the two races.
This is a tricky track that races like three different style tracks, so the set-ups are really important. Junior's crew chief now has a point of reference on how his driver handles this track.
Look for Earnhardt to finish in the top-10, but no better than fifth in the first race and probably around the 11th place slot for the second race.
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond International Raceway is the .75-mile short track that races like a really fast, larger track. Junior has had some good runs here, but they came in his Dale Earnhardt Inc. equipment.
He has led 427 laps with an average finish of 14.4. Junior has 10-top 10 finishes, but only one has been with HMS and that was in 2008.
The driver of the No. 88 needs to step up his game and qualify well at Richmond.
Dale Jr. will probably finish around 14th place in the first race, but will get a top-10 finish when the Chase is next on the agenda. His finish in the fall will be sixth or seventh place.
The Infineon Raceway at Sonoma is a track that Dale Jr. would be just as happy to not see on the circuit for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
He has never won or gotten a top-10 finish. He has led only nine laps and his average finish is 22.2.
Junior hasn't had much fun at this track and his streak will continue. The predicted finish for him this year will be around 25th to 30th place.
Talladega Superspeedway is a strong track for Earnhardt where he has five wins, 12 top-10 finishes of which three were in a Hendrick Motorsports car.
He has led 709 laps here and should qualify well. Tandem racing is not going to dominate the race and pack racing will apparently be back.
Junior should perform better than he has the last several races, excluding a fourth place finish at the first race last year in 2011.
During the second race, he and Jimmie Johnson hung out at the back hoping to stay safe until it was too late to race.
Look for strong runs by the No. 88 driver at both races this year as long as he doesn't get caught up in a wreck.
He will win one of the races and finish in the top-five for the other.
Texas Motor Speedway
Texas Motor Speedway is another of the intermediate 1.5-mile tracks that are pretty good for Dale Jr. He won with DEI and has 10 top-10 finishes with three of them being in a HMS car.
He has led 448 laps and his average finish is 14.1. The best finish he has had with the No. 88 was seventh at the second race last year.
The prediction for this year will be a finish around eighth in the first race and he will finish in the top five during the Chase, likely in third place.
Watkins Glen International
It would be better for Earnhardt to skip racing at Watkins Glen if he could. Road courses just are not good for the driver of the No. 88.
He has three top-10 finishes from long ago. His best finish with Hendrick Motorsports is 15th and his average finish is 22.2.
Dale Jr. has led a whopping 46 laps though.
It is not likely he will qualify well for the race here and his finish won't be too good either. Look for him to finish around 26th or 27th place if he is lucky.
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