Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be one of Jimmie Johnson’s biggest threats for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup title, reckons team boss Rick Hendrick, despite the former’s lack of recent wins.
Earnhardt has only won two races since his hugely-anticipated move to powerhouse team Hendrick in 2008, and did not triumph at all this season. But the 39-year-old’s fifth place in the final 2013 standings was his best championship result in seven years, and came despite a costly engine failure in the Chase opener at Chicagoland.
“You take the blown motor he had in the first race out of the Chase, he would have been right there [in the title hunt],” said Hendrick. “He’s run so well. You can’t run in the top 10 till you run 15th, and you can’t run in the top five until you’ve run in the top 10.
“He’s now consistently in the top five, top three. His confidence is at an all-time high. You can see it in his step. He told me that he can’t wait to go to Daytona [for the 2014 opener].
“I think he’s got a lot of wins in him. I think he’s going to be a threat for the championship next year.”
Earnhardt felt he let his 2013 chances slip in the run-up to the Chase, where he agreed he had been in very competitive form.
“We just got behind in the regular season not winning enough, not doing enough to get bonus points. Those guys did,” he said. “Those points are so important. If you put a good 10 [Chase] races together, add them bonus points on top of it, man, you’re going to be hard to beat.”