According to a multitude of fans and media members, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. encountered a travesty of a season while driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Apparently, he was supposed to jump into a Hendrick Motorsports prepared car and post Jimmie Johnson-like stats. When the 2008 season began last February at Daytona, Earnhardt, Jr. captured the Bud Shootout and one of the Gatorade 125 races, increasing his expectations even more.
As the season progressed, Earnhardt, Jr. enjoyed several solid showings throughout the first half of the year. He nearly won a number of races, most notably at Richmond in May when he was spun by Kyle Busch with just a handful of laps remaining. In fact, for the first quarter of the season, Earnhardt, Jr. was arguably the top performing Hendrick Motorsports driver despite the fact that he was shut out of victory lane.
The first win finally occurred at the 2-mile speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Earnhardt, Jr. ran among the top five and ten for most of the race, but it was superior fuel mileage that earned him his first and only victory of the season.
Earnhardt, Jr. spent most of the first half of the season among the top three in the Sprint Cup championship standings.
Following his victory at Michigan, Earnhardt, Jr.'s performance began to wane a little. He would only score one top ten finish in the preceding ten races; nevertheless, he still easily qualified for the ten race Chase for the Championship.
His championship pursuit was far from spectacular, as he scored only three top ten finishes in the final ten races and finished last among all twelve drivers in the Chase for the Championship in the standings. Certainly, it was not an ideal way to begin his career at Hendrick Motorsports; however, was it a disaster?
It seems as if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has topped everyone's list as the most disappointing driver of the 2008 Sprint Cup campaign. He could have done a lot worse.
Firstly, let us take a glimpse at some hard facts. Earnhardt, Jr. finished twelfth in the championship standings, better than Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex, Jr., Jamie McMurray, and other familiar stars.
He scored ten top five finishes. Only six drivers in the entire Sprint Cup series scored more top five finishes. Under the traditional championship format, Earnhardt, Jr. would have placed seventh in the final standings, higher than Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth.
He completed 98.6 percent of the laps he races, which is a personal career high. His average running position was 11.6, fourth among all drivers.
Most significantly, Earnhardt, Jr. won a race, something that Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and twenty-two other full-time drivers could not accomplish.
A true measure of a driver's performance is the driver ratings. Driver rating's are an intricate formula consisting of wins, finishes, top fifteen finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green flag conditions, fastest laps, most laps led, and lead lap finishes. Basically, the driver's with the highest rating are the ones that are frequently running near the front of the pack.
Earnhardt, Jr. finished the season with a driver rating of 99.0, which was fourth among all Sprint Cup drivers. Only Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch produced a better driver rating than Earnhardt, Jr, whose rating was higher than Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart.
So fans, was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. really that awful?
He is the most popular driver in NASCAR, and that comes with monumental exposure. Additionally, he is the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Sr, which that alone adds insurmountable pressure. Honestly, it does not matter how well Dale Earnhardt, Jr. performs, he will always fall short of expectations, because people expect his performance to match is popularity, which is utterly impossible. He is a victim of his own name and fame.