Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Best & Worst of NASCAR in 2012

A look back at last season with our own NASCAR awards
<p> A look back at last season with our own NASCAR awards.</p>

They’re the best of the best and worst of the worst in NASCAR. The pretty and the ugly, the cool and the lame. They made us cheer, laugh and, as Robert Plant once said, taught us “to weep and moan.”

They are the recipients of the Athlon Awards — back by popular demand — recognizing excellence (and lack thereof) from the 2012 NASCAR season. Some are fairly obvious, others off the wall. But none pull any punches. So, without further ado, the Athlon Awards.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 2013 NASCAR Driver Profile

Release Date: 
Mon, 2013-02-18 01:00
Driver Profile Year: 
Rick Hendrick
Team Name: 
Hendrick Motorsports
National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew
Driver Rank: 
Car Number: 
Crew Chief: 
Steve Letarte
<p> <strong>2012 Recap</strong><br /> For Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2012 will be defined more by the races he sat out than by the ones where he succeeded, although his successes allowed him to put together the best season of racing he’s had in a half-dozen years. Concussions sidelined the 10-time Most Popular Driver in October, derailing his Chase efforts and crippling what had been a comeback season.</p> <p> The season was characterized by urgency for Earnhardt, whose contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports was freshly inked. From Day 1, the driver responded. Earnhardt finished second in the Daytona 500, trailing only good buddy Matt Kenseth, and that jump-started a stretch of 15 straight weeks where he finished outside of the top 15 only once (17th, Darlington). That included 12 top-10 finishes, 218 laps led and most important, a win — Earnhardt’s first since 2008 — at Michigan in June.</p> <p> While crew chief Steve Letarte’s steady setups led to consistency, the win inspired confidence. During the first 20 races, Earnhardt would go 20-for-20 on lead lap finishes, something neither defending champ Tony Stewart nor 2012 titlist Brad Keselowski could do. After a fourth-place run at Indianapolis, Earnhardt was the Cup Series points leader, a position he hadn’t held since 2004.</p> <p> But just when Junior was labeled a bona fide title contender, it all came crashing down. A wreck during a tire test at Kansas in late August resulted in a concussion that Earnhardt hid. He later admitted to feeling just “80, 90 percent by the time the Chase started.” And it showed. In the first three postseason races, Earnhardt had a best finish of eighth. Then came Talladega, where the driver thought he was 100 percent until a vicious, last-lap impact led to headaches and the realization that he certainly wasn’t.</p> <p> After he was forced to sit out Charlotte and Kansas after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, the season turned on a dime. Earnhardt came back, and although he scored two top-10 finishes in the final four races, the damage was done. Dead last in the Chase for the second time in five years, Earnhardt was left to wonder what might have been.<br />  </p>

2013 Spin
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has something to prove in 2013 after a pair of concussions clouded his long-term prospects. Earnhardt, after years of struggling with Hendrick Motorsports, was the most consistent driver in Sprint Cup in the early part of the 2012 season, taking the points lead midsummer. However, a poor start to the Chase made his decision to sit out two races due to concussions an easy one. When the other drivers pushed down on the title accelerator, a low-key Earnhardt turned all but invisible — again.

NASCAR Drivers: 
NASCAR Tracks: 
Driver Name: 
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Previews, predictions and stats for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team

Backseat Drivers Fan Council

Reflecting on the NASCAR season that was
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<p> Dustin Long and the Backseat Drivers Fan Council discuss the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.</p>

The racing is over. All that remains is for NASCAR to get together in Las Vegas next week, dole out some money and party. Before the banquet arrives, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council take a look back at the sport’s TV coverage this season and the racing, while looking ahead to 2013. Here is what they had to say:

Grade the TV coverage of NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season by FOX, TNT, Speed and ESPN/ABC

NASCAR News & Notes of the Week

Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long highlights the NASCAR news and notes of the week. Carl Edwards and Regan Smith get new crew chiefs, Kyle Busch searches for sponsorship and Elliot Sadler has a new home at Joe Gibbs Racing.</p>

Until last week, crew chief Jimmy Fennig admits he had “very seldom’’ talked to Carl Edwards in their years together at Roush Fenway Racing.

“I’m the type of crew chief that I focus in on the job at hand and the driver I have and don’t really pay too much attention to other drivers,” said Fennig, who most recently was Matt Kenseth’s crew chief.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared to race

Earnhardt to make NASCAR Sprint Cup return in Martinsville
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<p> Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend at the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.</p>

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday.

Earnhardt missed the past two races after suffering a concussion Oct. 7 in a last-lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his second concussion within six weeks. He suffered a concussion in a crash during an Aug. 29 tire test at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR’s Cookie Cutter Crisis

Denny Hamlin wreck a rough reminder of racetracks in crisis
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines the proliferation of "cookie cutter" tracks on NASCAR's Sprint Cup circuit.</p>

Denny Hamlin began Thursday playing the role of NASCAR Chase contender. How’d he end it?

Trying to avoid the label of tragic footnote.

Smashing his car into the Turn 1 wall at a reported 202 mph, a test at the repaved Kansas Speedway turned into a headache—literally—as Hamlin fought dizziness to the point he made a second trip to the infield care center for further evaluation.

Backseat Drivers Fan Council

On the tricky topic of concussions in NASCAR
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<p> This week, Dustin Long and the Backseat Drivers Fan Council discuss the tricky topic of concussions and whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the right decision to step out of his car. Fan Council members also voice their opininons on what NASCAR should do about drivers that suffer from concussions and grade the Bank of America 500 from Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway because of a concussion, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had much to discuss from what should NASCAR do about concussions to if Fan Council members would still watch a race if their favorite driver was injured and not competing. Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council said:

NASCAR News & Notes of the Week

Rule Changes, Bowyer's Big Win and Earnhardt's Absence
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long has a lot of NASCAR ground to cover this week. From Clint Bowyer's big win and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s absence to AJ Allmendinger's return and new rules procedures, it's all in Athlon's NASCAR News &amp; Notes of the Week.</p>

Don’t be fooled by the court jester routine Clint Bowyer seems to play in press conferences. For all the joking he does, he’s serious about winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

With five races left in the Chase, Bowyer is fourth in the standings for car owner Michael Waltrip’s team, 28 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski.

10 Craziest NASCAR Moments at Talladega