Car number: 88 • Manufacturer: Chevy • Sponsor: National Guard/AMP Energy
Owner: Teresa Earnhardt
• Team: Hendrick Motorsports
• Crew Chief: Tony Eury Jr.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
Final Points Standing
After First 26 Races
Lead Lap Finishes
2007 Spin Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser crew got back on track in 2006 after an '05 season plagued by mismanagement. The team on the whole looked pretty racy, only falling out of the top 10 for one week on two separate occasions.
We've seen quite a growth from Earnhardt since the ill-fated crew-swap of 2005. During his time away from cousin/crew chief Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt learned how to handle and how to talk to his crew when things weren't going his way. On numerous occasions last year, Junior was the voice of reason, not the source of discontent. This maturity as a racecar driver helped him salvage decent finishes on days when the car was not at its best. It is also a necessary step on any driver's road to a championship.
Unfortunately for this team, we don't see a title in the cards for 2007. Although the driver is performing at a high level, the equipment remains a notch or two below that of Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Racing. Even Richard Childress and Ray Evernham have caught and passed DEI. For a Cup to grace the trophy cabinet in Mooresville, some changes need to be made in the management department. Couple that with what we're sure will be annoying rumors - whether true or unfounded - regarding Junior's contract that expires at the end of '07, and it's clear that there are more issues at play here than on-track performance.
Look for Earnhardt and Eury to replicate last season's one win and 10 top 5s. DEI is working hard on the COT, and Junior is an able-enough wheelman to adapt. He may even be good for upwards of three victories. His short track skills are among the best in the business and, as always, he'll be dangerous anytime the circuit bolts on the restrictor plates.
2006 Recap In a season that never saw Dale Earnhardt dip lower than 11th in the point standings, this crew was an "on the verge" team all year. A modest first half of 2006, highlighted by the lone win at Richmond, kept Junior safely in the top 10 until just past the halfway point.
Back-to-back 43rd-place runs knocked Junior down to 11th, a blow that would have sunk him in seasons past. This was a more mature Earnhardt, though. He put the team on his back and displayed the finest driving we have seen from him in his career.
Entering the Chase sixth in the standings, Junior looked to be making a serious run at the Cup until trouble showed up.
At Talladega, he was involved in the most controversial last lap of the season when Brian Vickers took out both Junior and Jimmie Johnson, who were running one-two no less. And at Martinsville, impatience snuck into the cockpit when Driver 8 got too aggressive attempting to take a spot from Kasey Kahne late. The resulting spin dropped him from a top 10 finish to 22nd.
Not even three consecutive top 10 runs could get him back in the title picture by then, as Junior finished a disappointing 19th to conclude the season and settled for fifth in the point standings.
• The Good: Dale Earnhardt Jr. shined on the intermediate tracks. Running in equipment not up to par with the some of his competitors, Junior drove twice as hard and was able to salvage an average finish of 8.3 for the season.
• The Bad: In the spring Talladega event, Junior spun out on his own before blowing an engine on lap 151. On a track that is usually his friend, he logged a 31st-place finish.
• The Ugly: Back-to-back 43rd-place finishes in July dropped the Bud Team from third to 11th in the standings. The blown motor and crash nearly sacked the season for Earnhardt and crew.