Is All the Optimism from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Hot Start Now Gone?

Joseph Shelton@@JosephShelton88Contributor IIIMay 2, 2013

Junior's lack of aggression has become more and more apparent in the sport.
Junior's lack of aggression has become more and more apparent in the sport.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It is safe to say that not only is it the die-hard Earnhardt faithful that would love to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a Sprint Cup title, but the grand majority of the NASCAR community would as well for obvious sentimental reasons. He has been presented as the face of the sport ever since his father's death, and a title win would pay dividends for him, his team, and the sport as a whole.

But from the looks of things, it's a wonder if we'll ever get to see such a monumental victory.

We've seen this out of Junior before. A hot start to begin the year, a stretch of strong runs, an occasional grab for the points lead, only to fall short and descend a few spots in the points. It's the story of his Cup career.

Granted, it is a reprieve from what was once considered the norm in the later part of the past decade. With the way 2013 has been going things seem miles away from such horrendous seasons such as his 2007 season or his cringe-worthy 2009 season. But you can only be content with consistent finishes and upper-level points positions for so long.

It just doesn't seem like Junior has the hunger that can be seen in his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. He doesn't have that aggression level and that is what has hurt him. Remember how he was during his 2003 and 2004 seasons? That was the title-contender Junior we wanted to see. The sport needed it, and he needed it more.

But sometimes, some guys have all the luck and sometimes, life just seems to suck. That is a fact that Junior knows all too well. Does it have any bearing on how he just doesn't seem as hungry as he once was? Maybe. He did have a pretty horrific stretch from 2005 to 2010. That's the sort of stretch that few drivers come back from. A true test of character, that's for sure.

Seeing how his 2013 season has played out, it looks like everyone else is finally sensing that Junior is going to be a top-10 player. An occasional front-runner at most. Granted, the season is young and things may change. Hopefully, they'll change. But at this point all we're seeing is the Junior of 2012 as well as the Junior of 2011, 2008 and 2006, if those seasons may be used as reference points. Nothing's changed.

He'll clinch a spot in the chase this year, I'll give him that. He'll rack up the top-10 finishes, maybe contend for a win where Johnson may have dropped out. But he'll continue in his role of Robin to Johnson's Batman this year.

If he doesn't change his game, start taking gambles, up his aggression level, stop being so placid...everyone would change their tune. Optimism would go hand-in-hand with realism. There would be no high hopes, no holding of bated breath. We would see the Junior that Junior needs to be. Instead of two straight runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500 due to wasted chances, he'd probably be a three-time 500 winner. Instead of pushing Johnson to a victory, he could decide to go for a victory instead.

Our points system rewards wins. Junior needs to come to terms with that and do something about it. Until then, realism will trump the baseless optimism that hangs over him. 


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