The Start of the Hendrick Motorsports years
Dale Earnhardt Jr started the season by winning the 2008 Budweiser Shootout,] a non-points paying exhibition. It was his first race for Hendrick. He led for a total of 47 of 70 laps, a Budweiser Shootout record. He followed that up five days later with a win in the Gatorade Duel. This was his third career win in the duels, however he was unable to follow it up with victory in the Daytona 500, finishing 9th. Ryan Newman was the winner of the event.
Dale Earnhardt Jr was docked 50 points because his rear spoiler didn't meet the specified height in the Nationwide Series. His crew chief Chad Walter was fined $35,000, suspended for 6 races and was placed on probation until December 31, 2008. Team owner Rick Hendrick was also docked 50 owner points along with Jr.
Dale Jr. started 15th for the Auto Club 500 because qualifying was rained out and the lineup was determined by owner points from last season. However on lap 21, teammate Casey Mears went up into the wall due to water on the track. When he came back down the track he took out Jr. When the cameras caught up with Earnhardt in the garage, he was irritated about the fact that they were even out on the track in those conditions. It had been raining all weekend and water was "weeping" out of the cracks on the track causing slick spots in the corners. The race was later rain delayed until Monday and Earnhardt finished the race 40th.
A string of four top-5 and top-10 finishes over the following weeks improved his position in the points standings from 23rd to fourth.
Despite winning the pole for the Samsung 500 at Texas, Junior finished the race a lap down in 12th position.
Earnhardt Jr. made his 300th career Sprint Cup start at the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Despite running a strong race (including leading 12 times), his involvement in a late-race collision left him with a 10th place finish in the race.
A string of three top-5 finishes in the next four races continued Earnhardt Jr.'s consistency, and maintained his 3rd place position in the points standings.
At Michigan, Dale Jr. broke his 76-race winless streak, managing to stretch his fuel mileage enough to allow him to win under a caution on the last lap of a green-white-checkered (overtime) finish.
Dale Jr couldn't find much success after the Michigan win. He then went back to Talladega Superspeedway for the AMP Energy 500 where he was en route a possible win before being caught up in "The Big One" late in the race. He headed to Martinsville Speedway where he finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson.
He ended the season in the garage area at Homestead Miami Speedway in The Ford 400 after losing his brakes with just a few laps to go in the race. Earnhardt Jr in 2008 won his 6th consecutive Nascar most popular driver award after he set a Nascar record for merchandise sales.
In the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt, Jr. began well, even leading for a lap. However multiple mishaps including a missed pit stop and a 1-lap penalty for pitting outside of his pit box sent him far into the back of the running order. Earnhardt, Jr. was then directly involved in a controversial crash on lap 124, when, while fighting to return to the lead lap, he turned into Brian Vickers, causing a ten car pileup which included Denny Hamlin,Scott Speed, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards. Both Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers later criticized Earnhardt, Jr, who denied purposely clipping Vickers. Earnhardt in turn criticized Vickers for blocking him on the inside. When the race concluded early due to the rain, Earnhardt, Jr. ended with a 27th place finish. After a blown engine at California and falling to 35th in the owners points, he finished 10th at Las Vegas and reached 29th place in points. Earnhardt Jr. finished 8th at Martinsville. Unfortunately, Earnhardt Jr. had a string of poor finishes including 20th at Texas, and 31st at Phoenix after being spun out by Casey Mears. Earnhardt Jr. gained confidence in his team after he finished second at Talladega. However, two weeks later at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. finished 27th. He was again spun out late in the race at Darlington and ended the race in 27th place. He then finished 10th in the All-Star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Dale's poor performance continued as he finished in 40th place in the Coca-Cola 600, also at Lowe's.
On Thursday, 28 May 2009, Tony Eury Jr. was fired as crew chief of the #88 team. Lance McGrew was named interim crew chief, and was scheduled to take over starting with the June 7, 2009 Pocono Race with team manager Brian Whitesell calling the shots at Dover the previous week. McGrew was scheduled to work with Brad Keselowski at Dover, but after a failed qualifying attempt by Keselowski, was able to take on his duties for the #88 team a week early. Earnhardt, Jr. managed to finish 12th at Dover for the Autism Speaks 400 with his new crew chief after contending for the lead. At Pocono Raceway, however, he again ended with a 27th-place finish. Since the change in Crew Chiefs, Earnhardt, Jr. has been consistantly better, finishing tenth at Chicagoland Speedway; during that time he had one DNF at Daytona International Speedway where he was taken out of the race early in a large pileup.
At the Carfax 400 at Michigan, Earnhardt, Jr. charged to the front near the end of the race and managed to finish third; he also earned his second top five finish this season in the same race. One week later at Bristol Earnhardt, Jr. finished 9th in the Sharpie 500. Recently, Earnhardt Jr. has run in the top 10 almost every week but overall, either due to mistakes by the pit crew or being wrecked on the racetrack, his finishes have not been very good and have not fairly reflected his performance. His bad luck continued at Auto Club Speedway, when he was involved in a multi-car incident triggered by Elliot Sadler. After a 39th qualifying run at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he said "I'm about to the end of my rope" and he had finally had it with the disappointments and the bad luck that he had all season long. At the fall Talladega race, Earnhardt, Jr. had a solid run, including leading several laps, before finishing in 11th place. Lance McGrew had the "interim" taken off of his title, and he will continue working with the #88 team through 2010. He ended 2009 winless and fewer top 5's and top 10's and finished a career low 25th in the standings.
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