April 2, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
While his teammates at Hendrick are suffering from good runs of bad luck, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is quietly flying under the radar and is off to a great start for the season.
Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon are mired deep in the point standings, while Jimmie Johnson has been in trouble with NASCAR and has only recently begun to climb in the points after his penalties were overturned. Yet even Johnson has struggled to be consistent thus far.
In the meantime, the most popular driver in NASCAR has stayed out of trouble and kept on the good side of Lady Luck. He's currently the highest ranked driver at Hendrick. However, being the face of the sport brings with it a lot of added scrutiny and criticism for Earnhardt.
Regardless of how well he runs or how much improvement he makes, people still find reasons for scolding him. Despite all of his success and improvement that he's shown since being paired with crew chief Steve Letarde, the so-called experts still don't consider him a title contender.
Earnhardt dominated the race early at Las Vegas, leading 70 laps, more than he led in all of last season. The car faded toward the end of the race, but he still salvaged a 10th place finish.
Overall, Earnhardt is happy with the way the season has begun and is looking forward to getting some wins.
"I like how our season is going so far," Earnhardt was quoted as saying at a press conference after the California race. "If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal eventually."
He finished third at the rain shortened California race last weekend, taking advantage of the showers and remaining on the track. However, he ran strong all day.
"We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came. We had been watching the weather all day," Earnhardt was quoted as saying. "We felt certain if it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three."
However, Earnhardt has a history of starting the season off strong and then struggles to remain in contention to qualify for the Chase. Will this year be similar or has the addition of a new crew chief turned his performance around?
Perhaps the answer lies in his attitude and the fact that he doesn't take all of the credit for his results to start the season.
"Yeah, I'm really happy. I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve and the team," Earnhardt said. "Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive."
Yet the best way to silence the critics would be to make a few visits to Victory Lane this season and be in contention to compete for the Championship at the end of the year.
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.