Is Dale Jr. Really a Cup Contender?

One year ago. Dale earnhardt Jr. gets ready to climb into his race car at Michigan International Speedway in August of 2011. Credit: Bob Ellis (NASCAR Ranting and Raving).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a breakout season so far this year (finally). He sits fourth in the standings right now and is just seventeen points out of first - a position he held until recently. Earnhardt has had a pretty consistent season so far. He has nine top fives, fifteen top tens and one win. Only five drivers have more wins than him and two of them are teammates. Fellow Hendrick drivers Johnson and Khane have three and two wins respectively. Johnson has just taken over the point lead while Khane is struggling to hang onto one of the Wildcard spots to get into the Chase.

Earnhardt Jr. is certainly looking like he is Championship worthy but is he really? Statistically, he isn't doing too bad. Only Johnson has more top fives (11) and top tens (16) than Earnhardt. This alone should make him worthy of being a Championship contender, right? Not so fast.

Running a good 'regular-season' doesn't mean you're going to have a great 'play-off'. Just ask regular season front runners Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and many more who have flailed in the Chase in recent years and they'll tell you, "Winning The Chase is hard". Earnhardt certainly has had a good 'regular season' and car owner Rick Hendrick knows how to put a top team together, he's been doing it for a long time now, but does the 88 team have what it takes to win the Championship this year? Maybe. Maybe not.

Earnhardt even admitted that his team might not be Championship contenders just yet in a recent interview on SPEED's Race Hub (22:30 mark). By Earnhardt's own admission it will not be until they start winning more races will they be able to compete for a Championship.

Is he just putting up a pretty good smoke screen for his competition, or is he being earnest in his comment?

We'll know in about 3 months.

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