Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. Peaked?

Brian KennedyCorrespondent IApril 20, 2009

ATLANTA - MARCH 06:  Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, prepares to qualify for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

*DISCLAIMER: Before beginning, if you are a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, take a step back from your computer, take a deep breath and brace yourselves for this article. You are not going to like it at all.

It has been nearly a decade since the young bleached blond haired son of legend Dale Earnhardt made his NASCAR debut at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was touted as being good if not better than the elder Earnhardt. Junior showed promise in the then Busch series by winning two straight titles.

Many thought Junior was the white knight that would slay the unstopable force known as Jeff Gordon. Ten years later this fairytale has not come to be. Junior is a fan favorite and sponsors dream. But on the track, he has turned into a mediocre driver. Don't believe me, just look at the facts.

In the 10 years that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he has won 18 races. Jeff Gordon had 18 career wins three years into his career and Kyle "Wonderkid" Busch is closing in on 18. (Busch has 14 wins) Junior is tied in wins with fellow 2000 rookie Matt Kenseth, but Kenseth has a 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup title to his name. 

Undoubtedly, Junior's best years have come while at DEI; where he won 17 of his 18 career wins. He was a dominant restrictor plate racer, and vied for wins each weekend. He had good parts, a good teammate (MIKEY!), and a good owner. Junior was started to become the driver everyone thought he would be.

Junior is now at the best race team, Hendrick Motor-sports, and cannot seem find the magic so many thought he would have. In the year and a half that Junior has been with Hendrick, he has only recorded 10 top 5's (None in 2009) and 18 top 10's. He only has one win, but the win came on a huge gamble. While these misfortunes are happening, many are asking, "Will Dale Jr. ever win a championship?"

With the way things are going, Dale Jr. could very well be the next Mark Martin.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career is slowly running in reverse. Will changed be made if progress is not shown? If you're not performing at Hendrick, you will be released or replaced (See: Casey Mears) in a heartbeat.  Mark Martin proved Saturday night that someone other than Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon can win at Hendrick. Many are wondering when Junior will win again.

Junior does have his fans, the one shining light on these past few years. But how much more can the fans take. Many from Junior nation were once fans of the Intimidator. When you're used to winning so much with a driver, it is a hard pill to swallow when the new driver is not doing the same.

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win anymore races? Yes, in time. Will he win championships? Hard to say. Has Dale Earnardt Jr.'s career peaked? With the recent results and outcomes, it would be hard not to say yes.