For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2009 season was one of the most frustrating and trying times of his ten-year career. With only two top 5s and five top 10s, the third generation racer was forced to face harsh criticism from the media, fellow competitors and even his loyal fans. The downward spiral seemed to begin right from the start of the season during the Daytona 500.
One of the stronger cars in Daytona, Earnhardt was penalized for pitting outside his box and was held one lap by NASCAR. With rains approaching and threatening to shorten the event, Junior aggressively went to work trying to get his lap back and put himself into contention. In doing so, Earnhardt triggered a massive wreck on the backstretch that took out a number of contenders as he slipped through without so much as a dent.
The criticism rained on the sport’s most popular driver and from then on the season was awash. Throughout the year Earnhardt’s commitment was called into question and so was his ability to compete for wins. The frustration was visible on the 34-year-old’s face and was clear through his comments to the media.
This year, Earnhardt Jr. is recharged and ready to turn his luck around, starting at Daytona. This year, however, Earnhardt and crew chief Lance McGrew are focused on completing races and making the most out of each race to score the most points in the end – easier said than done.