Dale Earnhardt Jr. May Be Squandering Away His Prime

Tom ThomasonCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 09:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Southern 500 on May 9, 2009 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

This isn't another bash Tony Eury Jr. article, or one of those Dale Earnhardt Jr. sucks articles either.

Instead, it is a statistical analysis of great drivers careers. So the question is, looking at the stats of great drivers, is Earnhardt Jr. missing his window for greatness?

I was looking at some of the greatest drivers in NASCAR, and their stats, and I found some interesting things.

It seems most of the great ones hit their prime right about where Earnhardt Jr. is in his career—his 10th season.

It's no secret that Earnhardt Jr. isn't hitting his stride right now. So let's look at some of the greats.

Richard Petty won 27 races in 1967. Which is about nine years into his career (if you count 1958). He followed that season with four double-digit winning seasons, ranking no worse than fifth in the standings until 1978 (He finished sixth in '78).

Petty is probably not a good comparison so we will look further down the trough.

Darrell Waltrip won 12 races in 1981 and 1982 on his way to winning consecutive championships. He didn't finish out of the top five until 1988 (seventh). Waltrip started his career in 1972, and also won the championship in 1985.

Bill Elliott won 11 races in 1985 and finished second in the rankings. He started his career in 1976. He won his only championship in 1988, and stayed in the top five until 1991.

Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon are freaks that have been winning from almost day one. So we won't count them.

Rusty Wallace won six races in 1988 and 1989, winning the championship in 1989. He started racing in 1980.

Wallace was only in the top five until 1990, but finished in the top 10 almost every year after 1993 until 2002. I have heard people compare Wallace's style of driving to Earnhardt Jr.'s by the way.

David Pearson won the championship in 1966, 1968, and 1969. He won 15 races in '66, 16 in '68, and 11 in '69. He started racing in 1960.

Cale Yarborough won 10 races in 1974. He finished second that year. He won three championships from 1976-1978, winning 10 races in 1978. He finished in the top five for two more years. Yarborough started racing full-time around 1964.

Bobby Allison won 11 and 10 races in 1971 and 1972. He started racing around 1962 and full-time in '65, and won his championship in 1983. Allison finished in the top five 11 times in his career.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. won 11 races in 1987. His official rookie season was 1979. He ended up with 76 wins and seven championships. He is widely regarded as the greatest driver of the modern age.

So while this certainly doesn't mean that Earnhardt Jr. won't win after these next few years, if history is any indication he better get it in gear (pun intended).