Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 8 Reasons He's No Longer Among NASCAR's Elite Drivers

Melissa Bauer-Herzog@mbauerherzogCorrespondent IApril 20, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 8 Reasons He's No Longer Among NASCAR's Elite Drivers

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (P
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Dale Earnhardt Jr, NASCAR's darling, but has he fallen from the elite list of drivers? Junior Nation is still alive and strong but many overrated drivers are as well.

    So is Junior Nation the only thing keeping Dale Jr in the spotlight?

    Take a trip with me as we decide if Junior is an elite driver or if his fanbase is the only thing keeping him alive.

He Hasn't Won Since 2008

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    BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 15:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2008 in Brooklyn, Mich
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Junior's dry streak is infamous.

    Whenever he's close to winning, commentators wonder if this could be the day he wins.

    He has won 18 times in his career but hasn't seen Victory Lane in a Cup race since 2008.

His Average Finishes

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    INDIANAPOLIS - JULY 25:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, drives after suffering damage from a crash late in the race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 20
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Earnhardt Jr. had an average finish of 18.6 and 23.3 in 2010 and 2009, respectively.

    While he sits with an average finish of 10.0 this year after eight races. 

    In contrast, Jimmie Johnson finished 12.2 and 11.1 in those years.

His Average Start

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    MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, leads Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Ap
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Junior's qualifying spots look about as good as his finishes the last two years, sitting at 19.0 (18.6 average finish) and 22.2 (23.3).

    No. 2 points man last year, Denny Hamlin, had an average start of 17.2 and 14.4.

    However, No. 3 points man, Kevin Harvick, averaged a 21 and 20.9 start, with an average finish of 8.7 and 19.9.

The Points

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 16:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #7 Suave Men Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron's 312 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 16, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Gra
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Earnhardt Jr finished 21st in points in 2010 and 25th in 2009 after finishing 12th in 2008. 

    However, DNFs cannot be blamed for his bad points since he completed 99.4 percent of his races in 2010 and 96.7 percent in 2009 (according to NASCAR.com).

His Best Races Have Been in Nationwide

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 02:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 Wrangler Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    There is nothing wrong with the Nationwide series but Junior can't repeat his Nationwide success in Cup.

    In Nationwide, Junior has won two championships, 23 wins, and 77 top-10s. 

    Junior seems to be the perfect Nationwide driver but cannot translate that to Cup.

He Can't Adjust

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 15:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., drives the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 15, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Gett
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Junior is infamous for talking about the changes of cars in a negative light.

    Since the Car of Tomorrow came out, Junior has struggled  and it's shown in his performances.

    While most drivers cannot adjust to every single car out there, they learn to work with it and that is something Junior seems to struggle with.

Confidence

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 10:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy Chevrolet, speaks with members of the media during the 2011 NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by To
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Junior seems to beat himself up if he under performs to the expectations of fans, the media and himself.

    Most elite athletes keep up the appearance of being confident even when they aren't but Junior shows his confidence or lack of it on his sleeve.

    While this isn't a bad thing, acting confident usually makes the person feel confident and that's something all elite athletes seem to share.

The Appearance That He's a Plate Driver

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, leads Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Junior is awesome at Restrictor Plate tracks when he stays out of trouble. 

    He has seven wins at Super Speedways in 66 starts with 28 top 10 finishes. This is close to his intermediate track stat with the same amount of wins and 90 top tens (in 250 starts). 

    While Junior doesn't really struggle at any type of track other than road courses, he is definitely best at the tracks where he can push or be pushed.

    The appearance of being a plate racer definitely takes down his status in many eyes, even if it isn't totally true.

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