NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst ISeptember 12, 2012

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, poses after winning the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Every day here at Bleacher Report, we'll be counting down the 12 drivers in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup by posting two driver previews, breaking down how they got in and what they're going to do with their berth. We've already posted Matt Kenseth (eighth), which means it's time to preview the Chase for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh).

DALE EARNHARDT JR., #88 National Guard/Diet Mtn Dew Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

CHASE POSITION: 7th, 2003 points (1 win)

MAKING THE CHASE: Despite losing the points lead at Watkins Glen, Earnhardt Jr. was among the first group of drivers who clinched a Chase spot at Bristol. Ranking third in points, he scored a 12th place finish in the Thunder Valley.

LAST 10 RACES: Earnhardt Jr. has been one of the series' most consistent drivers all season, scoring a best finish of fourth on four separate occasions in the Race to the Chase. Eight of his 10 finishes have been in the top 15, and his strong average finish of 12.4 reflects that.

LAST YEAR'S CHASE: A third place finish in the Chase opener at Chicago was Earnhardt Jr.'s best result in the final 10 races. He finished seventh in the Chase with an average finish of 15.1, with only three top-10s and three finishes outside of the top 20.

AT CHASE TRACKS: Earnhardt Jr. has never won at Martinsville, but with 10 top-fives and 14 top-10s in 25 starts, his 12.6 average finish is his best among Chase tracks. However, he's never broken into the top 10 at Homestead, posting a dismal average finish of 23.1.

OUTLOOK: Here he is—NASCAR's golden boy, a Sprint Cup race winner for the first time in four years and one of its most consistent drivers all season. The first question is whether or not consistency alone is enough to win his first title.

The second, and perhaps more important, question is, with Hendrick Motorsports' four teams all in the Chase, if poor runs early on could cause one team to abandon its hopes for the greater good. Earnhardt Jr. might be competing against his teammates early on before he can even focus on the championship run.

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