Plate Proficiency Eludes Earnhardt In Recent Seasons
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a top pick to win whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes restrictor-plate racing. Seven victories at Daytona and Talladega – including a win in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 – have earned Junior a contender’s mantle.
Statistics, however, can be deceiving.
All of Earnhardt’s plate wins took place nearly a decade ago, during a time in which Dale Earnhardt Inc. and its Chevrolets was virtually unbeatable at NASCAR’s most formidable layouts. The organization, which paired Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip, won 11 of 16 races held at the two tracks from 2001 through 2004.
Both drivers are winless at both tracks in subsequent seasons.
Earnhardt’s Coke Zero 400 record has been relatively ordinary since taking the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2004. Earnhardt, 15th a year ago, averages a finish of 14.0 as an HMS team member – his best a fourth in 2010. His No. 88 Chevy has led just a single lap in Daytona’s July race since 2009.
The drought, however, could be coming to an end. Junior looked like the plate driver of yesteryear in February as he chased Daytona 500 winner and HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag. The runner-up finish was Earnhardt’s best at Daytona since the 2010 Daytona 500.