Chase Capsules: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Leave a comment

88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 3rd (2003)
Chase History: 7th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 5th in 2004, 2006 and 2013

Regular Season Recap: Beginning with his huge win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and his two wins at Pocono, Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has enjoyed his most successful season (and total of wins) since 2004. And there’s still 10 races remaining. Wins are great, but it’s been the consistency that has separated Junior this year from year’s past. And with the exception of just one week when he dropped to sixth, he’s fluctuated between first and fifth place in the season standings. But Junior isn’t done by any stretch. He can easily win Saturday at Richmond and perhaps grab another win or two in the Chase. Until he proves otherwise, this very well could be Earnhardt’s greatest season ever.

Jerry’s Take: An argument can be made that this has – to date – been Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best season yet in Sprint Cup racing.

Sure, he had a career-best six wins in the first year of the Chase (2004), but starting with his win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt has appeared more motivated to win that elusive first championship than he ever has.

He has more incentive, as well. First, this is crew chief Steve Letarte’s final season with Junior before becoming a full-time NASCAR analyst on NBC telecasts in 2015. Also, Earnhardt turns 40 next month (where has the time gone). He knows he’s already begun the downhill slide on his career.

If he’s ever to win a Sprint Cup championship, this likely will be the best opportunity he’ll ever have.

Chris’s Take: This has been building over the last year for Earnhardt, who served notice that 2014 would be a strong season for him thanks to a great 2013 Chase following his engine failure at Chicagoland.

Now, as this year’s post-season looms, he and his rabid fan base are brimming with hope that this will be the year. And why shouldn’t they be?

Junior has been in the lead pack almost all the way, and the 88 team as a whole (including outgoing crew chief Steve Letarte) is as cohesive a unit as you’ll find in the garage. I’d be surprised if these guys didn’t make it to Homestead with a chance at the Cup.

Tony’s Take: A revitalized, focused Dale Earnhardt Jr. has emerged throughout the entirety of the 2014 season and is in the best position possible to capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. It would be a fitting cap to a year when he and crew chief Steve Letarte are at the end of their stint together.

Problem is, lately, Junior and the No. 88 team haven’t clicked nearly as well as they did in the first half of the year. The qualifying needs to improve. Simple ninth to 12th place finishes on race day won’t get the job done. With only one top five in the last eight races, Junior has fallen behind in the Hendrick pecking order, if not the standings themselves.

He should be able to advance through the Challenger and Contender rounds easily, provided the finishes pick up. But advancing from Eliminator through to the finale at Homestead may be a greater challenge. Right now, it’s hard to see three of the four Hendrick drivers able to fight for a title at Homestead, and Junior will need to recapture that early season form if he wants to be in with a shot.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – One win, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Zero wins, 7 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 30 starts
Dover (1 mile) – One win, 6 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 29 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 2 Top-5s, 8 Top-10s in 16 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Zero wins, 5 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 29 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – Five wins, 10 Top-5s, 14 Top-10s in 29 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Zero wins, 11 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 29 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 24 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – Two wins, 7 Top-5s, 11 Top-10s in 24 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – One win, 1 Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 14 starts

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

MRTI: Telitz gets creative to help racing career

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

To say that Belardi Auto Racing’s Aaron Telitz has endured a difficult start to the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season would be an understatement. The Wisconsin native only completed four corners through the first three races – Races 1 and 2 at St. Petersburg, and Race 1 at Barber Motorsports Park – with St. Pete being especially problematic.

He took the pole for Race 1, but a crash during qualifying for Race 2 prevented him from actually starting. What’s more, the damage was so severe that the Belardi team needed a brand new chassis, with Telitz’s Dallara IL-15 damaged beyond repair.

They also had to borrow a car from Carlin for Race 2, but Telitz’s race ended after he got tangled up with Victor Franzoni in Turn 2 on Lap 1.

With the damage bill well into the six figures as a result, Telitz has taken to some unique, or rather, creative ways to raise money in the aftermath to help cover the costs. “Creative,” in this case, meaning Telitz is using his art skills.

An artist in his spare time, Telitz has begun selling his own original paintings to help raise money.

 “I’ve been to a lot of art shows and I see stuff and I go, ‘Holy cow, someone’s going to pay a thousand dollars for that thing?’” Telitz quipped in a story posted on the Milwaukee Journal.

In discussing his artistic abilities, Telitz added, “I’m working at getting better. I’d like to be able to paint some animals, those types of things. I got a request from Alexander Rossi to see if I could paint his dog. Unfortunately I can’t do that yet.”

Further, in a partnership with The Styled Garage, Telitz is selling his own merchandise, and accepting donations, to help his cause.

Telitz finished fourth in Race 2 at Barber on Sunday, and sits seventh in the Indy Lights championship, 59 points behind leader Pato O’Ward.

Follow@KyleMLavigne