Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 7 Reasons He Could Have a Comeback Season in 2011

Brian Shannon@bshannon15Correspondent IJanuary 11, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 7 Reasons He Could Have a Comeback Season In 2011

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    AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 13, 2010 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo b
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in a slump, and a major one at that.

    It has been two full seasons since the No. 88 visited victory lane and that doesn't sit well with Junior or his fans. Earnhardt Jr. has not only been a non-factor in the Chase, but he has been a non-factor altogether on the track.

    Here is a look at seven reasons that 2011 could be the year the Junior turns it around.

A New Crew Chief

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    BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 20: Steve Letarte, crew chief for the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, watches from atop the team hauler during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 20, 2010 in Bristol, Tennessee.
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Earnhardt Jr. will have a new crew chief in 2011, as the Hendrick teams did a swap that leaves Junior with Jeff Gordon's former crew chief Steve Letarte.

    Most believe Gordon got the best of the swap as he now has former Mark Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson in charge of the No. 24.

    The move could prove to be beneficial for Junior as well as he looks ahead to a fresh start in 2011 with a new crew and a more positive outlook on the upcoming season.

He Improved Last Season...Slightly

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    AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 13, 2010 in Avondale,
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Okay, so it wasn't much of an improvement, but it was an improvement nonetheless.

    After finishing in a dismal 25th in 2009, Junior finished 21st in 2010, and although that is still nowhere close to where he wants to be, this past season was a slightly better one.

    Junior finished with eight top-10s and three top-fives, also not what fans of the 88 would like to see but still an improvement over 2009.

    Earnhardt Jr. fans would like to see a much bigger improvement in 2011.

He Can Build On a Strong Start

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Gu
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Last season, Junior started the season off great, finishing second at Daytona.

    But he was unable to carry that momentum over as he failed to finish in the top 10 in his next three races, including a 32nd-place finish the following week at Fontana.

    Junior has traditionally raced well at Daytona and a strong finish to start the season could be just what he needs to get back on track this year.

There's Nowhere To Go But Up

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    FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty I
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Things have just about hit rock bottom for the No. 88 in the past two seasons and he really has nowhere to go but up.

    No wins and just 13 top-10 finishes in the past two seasons combined is not what fans expect from someone who used to be near the top of the sport.

A Possible Contract Extension Is In the Works

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    HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, stands on pit road prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by J
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    There have been many questions about what Junior will do when his contract with Hendrick expires in 2012, with the possibility of driving for himself or going to another team being a real option.

    Reports show that Junior and Hendrick Motorsports are working on an extension for the No. 88 to stay on board.

    If an extension is reached, it would take some of the burden off Junior and allow him to be even more focused on racing and racing well.

Some of the No. 48's Magic Will Rub Off On Junior

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    PHOENIX - APRIL 09: Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, talks with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (R), driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix Intern
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    As part of the crew swap, Earnhardt Jr. will now move into the same garage as the five-time reigning Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.

    Junior believes the 48-88 shop has potential. He was quoted saying, "We needed this to happen. I needed this to happen. Hopefully, this will get me back to winning races, running in the top five and running in the top 10."

    The new pairing should do nothing but good for the No. 88 as he looks to regain his winning form.

He's Due

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    HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, stands on pit road prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by J
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Have I mentioned Junior has failed to win a race in the past two seasons?

    The last two seasons have been especially disappointing for Earnhardt Jr. and his fans, but the past six years haven't been all that great either as he has just one top-10 finish in the season's final standings, which came back in 2006.

    Sooner or later the No. 88 will be visiting victory lane on a more frequent basis.

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