By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Atrocious, horrible, terrible, disastrous, ridiculous, unfathomable… These are all adjectives that perfectly describe Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season in 2009. There are even a few more I can’t print on here that people are using, but I digress.
The perrenial most popular driver in the Sprint Cup Series has struggled since moving to a team where he was expected to compete for championships, in fact he had his worst season ever in 2009. Now many fans (of other drivers) and members of the media are expecting more of the same for Dale Jr. this upcoming season.
You can’t really blame people for jumping on that bandwagon. I mean in 1998 and 1999 Earnhardt took the Nascar world by storm, he ran away with two straight Nationwide (then Busch) Series championships. Add that with the fact his father was the man who was a legend and expectations went through the roof.
The expectations, as fair or unfair as they may have been, is irrelevant and not up for debate. The point of the matter is that just about every expectation laid upon him from others he has failed to realize… His 2010 expectations will be no different.
Why you say?
Its quite simple. The stars are aligning for a breakout season.
For the first time in his career people aren’t really expecting much. Earnhardt has just three wins in the past five seasons and has not looked at anytime like he is poised for a championship run (except early on in 2008) during that time. This will be a huge reason for his success in 2010.
He has also owned his own Nationwide Series team since 2005 and has been the one calling all of the shots (coincidence that his cup effort started slumping in 2005?) for the team.
Well not long ago it was announced that he was giving ownership stakes in his Nationwide Series team to his sister Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge and his cousin Tony Eury Jr which will give him more time to focus on driving his No. 88 Amp Energy / National Guard Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, while they hold the fort down for the Nationwide Team.
Throw in the fact that Hendrick Motorsports has sent Chris Heroy, who was lead engineer for Mark Martin’s team last season, to Jr.’s team to help improve the 88 cars performance, and what you have is a formula for success. As a result Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not live up to expectaions, but this time around that will not be such a bad thing.