It’s the biggest question on everybody’s mind entering 2012: When, and where, will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally put an end to his winless streak? Whether you are part of Junior Nation or a fan of every driver but, you’ll want to keep an eye on Team No. 88 at these five NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks this season.
Richmond International Raceway
Richmond has been a feast-or-famine type of track for Junior. When he’s on, he’s on (three wins, eight top fives and two additional top 10s), but when he’s bad, he’s really bad (seven finishes of 20th or worse). Earnhardt hasn’t had much success there since joining Hendrick Motorsports, but he did show signs of improvement last year. Will 2012 bring more of the same?
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Vegas has always been kind to Earnhardt (three top-10 finishes, average finish of 9.0 since 2008), so why couldn’t he hit the jackpot in 2012? He proved last year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte that he’s able to put himself in position for the win at intermediate tracks. Now he’ll just need lady luck on his side to complete the job.
Daytona International Speedway
It’s a family thing for Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona — or, rather, Daletona, as it was commonly referred to during Junior's father’s heyday when the racing legend established a record 34 wins at the track. Junior is no slouch, though, having won 13 races at the track, including two Cup races that were arguably the two biggest of his career (2001 Coke Zero 400, 2004 Daytona 500). If pack-style racing returns, expect all eyes to focus on Junior because it's his preferred type of racing at one his favorite racetracks on the circuit.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Even during his years-long drought, Earnhardt has found Bristol to be a place of comfort. In fact, he has not finished worse than 18th there since way back in 2001, a 21-race stretch. If he can get back out front (he hasn’t led a lap there since 2007), he’s consistent enough to find a way to stay out there.
It would be fitting for Junior to end his slump at Talladega, the track where he has been most successful in the Sprint Cup ranks. A win would be the sixth of his career and put him in a tie for most all time with Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt came close in the spring race last year and he’s got plenty of friends who would want to work with him, so a win is anything but far-fetched.