Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Season finish: 8th
2014 Season Stats: 4 wins, 12 top-5, 20 top-10, 0 Poles.
What went right: So much went right for Junior in 2014. He started off with a win in the season-opening Daytona 500, the second time in his career he’s captured the Great American Race. To celebrate, he started tweeting in victory lane – and hasn’t stopped since. That expanded fan interaction likely helped Earnhardt win the Most Popular Driver award for the 12th consecutive season. But there was much more: Earnhardt would go on to win four races, the most since he won six in 2004, and he appeared to be a bonafide championship contender until he was eliminated after the Eliminator Round. He wanted so much to win the championship for crew chief Steve Letarte, who enjoyed his final season in that role with Earnhardt and has now moved on to become an analyst for NASCAR on NBC telecasts in 2015. Although he’ll have a new crew chief in Greg Ives in 2015, look for Earnhardt to have another outstanding season – and maybe this time he finally will win that elusive first championship. If Kevin Harvick could win it all after 14 seasons, Junior can do it after 15 seasons, right?
What went wrong: Junior did so much right in 2014 that it’s hard to pinpoint anything significantly wrong. But there’s no overlooking that he faded in the Eliminator Round and was not able to move on to the Champion 4 Round, the one race, winner-take-all battle at Homestead. The pressure didn’t get to him, but he just didn’t get the performances he needed to advance. Sometimes, that’s just the way fate goes and you can’t do anything about it. But if nothing else, Junior saw how exciting and fulfilling this season was, and likely will come back even more inspired in 2015.
2015 Prospectus: Speaking of 2015, even though he’ll have a new crew chief in Greg Ives and several new members of his pit crew, we see no reason why Earnhardt can’t continue on and pick up where he left off in 2014. How well he can build a strong communication base and confidence level with new crew chief Greg Ives will arguably be one of the biggest things.
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