Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sat out the past two races at Kansas and Charlotte following a concussion suffered Oct. 7 at Talladega Superspeedway, has been medically cleared to return to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
And Junior immediately becomes a favorite to win even though he’s yet to visit Martinsville Speedway’s Victory Lane. By Driver Rating, 100.1, Martinsville is Earnhardt’s best track. He’s finished outside the top 15 just once since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, fashioning three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt rides a Martinsville streak of four consecutive top 10s – including a third this spring. He came within four laps of victory a year earlier, the victim of a perfectly executed bump and run by Kevin Harvick.
With no championship on the line, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte likely will take an all-or-nothing approach to the remaining four races on the schedule. Regardless of points position, Earnhardt is on pace to chart his most productive season in terms of top fives and top 10s since joining the Hendrick organization. His 10 top fives match 2008’s output while 18 top 10s is the driver’s best and counting.
Martinsville and beyond loom as dress rehearsals for 2013 as Earnhardt and Letarte work to rebuild the season’s earlier momentum that carried the team to victory at Michigan, the NSCS points lead and a spot in the Chase.