2014 Season in Review: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
By Jessica Ruffin
CONCORD, N.C. – Junior Nation has something to celebrate.
After kicking off the 2014 season with a win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued on to excite his dedicated fan base with victories, fast race cars and a hunger for success.
With the offseason in place, let’s take a look back at a few of Earnhardt’s 2014 milestones.
The Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida, opens the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season each year and is considered one of the most prestigious races in the sport. This season, the suspense leading up to the coveted race was even more intense after the race was delayed more than six hours due to inclement weather. But from the downpour, Earnhardt emerged victorious, powering his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS to the finish line under the lights. The win marked Earnhardt’s second Daytona 500 victory, his first occurring exactly 10 years prior. Much to his fans’ delight, Earnhardt also decided to join Twitter following the Victory Lane celebrations.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 24, 2014
Finding the broom at Pocono
Having won at Pocono Raceway for the first time in his career earlier in the 2014 season, Earnhardt was searching for his first track sweep since 2002 when he arrived in Pennsylvania in August. And after pacing the field for 14 laps around the triangular track, he found his broom. The first-place finish marked Earnhardt’s 22nd career victory and third win of the 2014 season.
“We had a fast car and I drove a good race, but [crew chief] Steve [Letarte]'s strategy gave us a chance to win,” Earnhardt said of the win, cracking a smile. “I can’t believe we swept Pocono.”
Four years and counting
Making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is not an easy task, especially with the new format in place. But that hasn’t stopped Earnhardt. This season marked the fourth straight year that the 40-year-old driver has qualified for the Chase and was able to contend for a championship. This Chase streak is the longest of Earnhardt’s career.
A clock of his own
Earnhardt grew up attending races at Martinsville Speedway and was constantly surrounded by his father’s grandfather clock trophies from victories at the Virginia track. But up until this season, that was one trophy he hadn’t earned in 16 years of racing in the Cup series. Earnhardt finally collected a clock of his own on Oct. 26, when he led 79 laps around the tight corners of Martinsville Speedway for the victory.
“I’ve wanted that grandfather clock ever since I was a little boy,” Earnhardt said from Victory Lane, “and I got it today.”
Letarte’s last hurrah
Despite his success, the 2014 season also was a bittersweet one for Earnhardt, as it marked the last year Steve Letarte would serve as the No. 88 crew chief. Letarte called the shots on the No. 88 pit box for four years before hanging up his firesuit for a career as an NBC broadcaster. During those four seasons, the duo earned 74 top-10s, 36 top-five finishes, five wins and four pole positions. But Letarte’s final year with Hendrick Motorsports was arguably his best season with Earnhardt. Under Letarte’s watch, Earnhardt reached Victory Lane more times in 2014 than he had in the 2005-2013 seasons combined. He also finished approximately 33.33 percent of the races this season in the top five, giving the No. 88 team its most top-five finishes in one season since 2004.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) November 17, 2014