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Statistically Speaking

2015 Forecast: Earnhardt, #6

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Dale Earnhardt Jr was the first driver to earn a berth into the Chase by winning the Daytona 500. If there had been more than 16 winners during 2014, he would have needed to rely on his points’ standings to get into the Championship rounds and he removed any doubt about that by winning his second race at Pocono Raceway in June.

That victory at Pocono proved to be important for more than simply how it impacted his Chase scenario, but was also critical because he finally ran well on a track that has been traditionally kind to Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt swept Pocono by winning in August and he added a fourth and final victory of the season at Martinsville Speedway, which was another stronghold for the Hendrick Heroes. One reason for his success on these tracks was crew chief Steve Letarte who came to the No. 88 after five and a half seasons with Jeff Gordon.

It is widely accepted that Earnhardt had one of his best opportunities to win the championship last year. Early in the season, he seemed to be unstoppable with a sweep of the top-two in the first three races and consistent top-10s through August. An accident at Bristol Motor Speedway in the night race seemed to take a lot of wind from his sails, however, and his season soon devolved. In the last 13 races of the season, Earnhardt earned only one top-five and four top-10s. There was some good news, however; his single top-five was the victory at Martinsville and three of his top-10s came in the last four races of the season.

In order to find the right equation for success, however, NASCAR fantasy owners need to look at more than just a driver’s skill. The entire team contributes to top-fives and -10s. Earnhardt has a reputation for being somewhat slow to mesh with new crew chiefs and he needs a firm voice atop the pit box. Letarte gave that to him.

There has to be a little uncertainty about how much experience Earnhardt’s new crew chief Greg Ives brings to the team. Hendrick Motorsports and their closely affiliated teams have perhaps the deepest talent pool in the industry, but Ives has not yet wrenched a winning car in the Cup series. In fact, this year’s Daytona 500 will be his debut. He is far from lacking in experience, however, nor is he unfamiliar to Earnhardt. Ives helped steer Regan Smith to a third-place position in the XFINITY points in 2013 and last year he sat atop the box of Chase Elliott to guide the rookie to a championship.

Last year, Earnhardt failed to use the new knockout-style rules to his advantage. His slump in the early stages of the playoffs came at exactly the wrong time, but this format could just as easily play into his favor. Before last year, Earnhardt had difficulty creating and sustaining momentum, but the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization is capable of winning each week. Ives has proven capable of fielding a front running car in the second series and they have 26 Cup races during which to develop strong chemistry.

 

Avg. Finish

Starts

Track

Best Finish

2014 race 1 finish

2014 race 2 finish

12.30

27

Atlanta Motor Speedway

1

11

 

12.43

30

Martinsville Speedway

1

3

1

12.75

4

Kentucky Speedway

4

5

 

12.87

30

Bristol Motor Speedway

1

24

39

13.40

30

Daytona International Speedway

1

1

14

13.48

31

Richmond International Raceway

1

7

12

14.30

20

Darlington Raceway

2

2

 

14.60

25

Texas Motor Speedway

1

43

6

14.73

15

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

2

2

 

15.29

31

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

3

10

9

15.30

30

Pocono Raceway

1

1

1

15.50

14

Chicagoland Speedway

1

11

 

15.53

30

Talladega Superspeedway

1

26

31

15.65

31

Michigan International Speedway

1

7

5

16.08

25

Phoenix International Raceway

1

2

8

16.20

30

Dover Downs International

1

9

17

16.65

17

Kansas Speedway

2

5

39

18.60

15

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

4

9

 

19.43

30

Charlotte Motor Speedway

3

19

20

19.55

22

Auto Club Speedway

2

12

 

20.27

15

Sonoma Raceway

3

3

 

21.25

12

Homestead - Miami Speedway current

3

14

 

22.40

15

Watkins Glen International

3

11

 

Inactive

16.33

3

Homestead - Miami Speedway - old

13

 

 

24.67

9

North Carolina Speedway

5

 

 

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.