Dale Earnhardt Jr: 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion

Jim FolsomContributorJanuary 22, 2013

The Window of Opportunity is Shrinking for Dale Jr. to Win a Championship
The Window of Opportunity is Shrinking for Dale Jr. to Win a ChampionshipJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

OK, saying that a guy with one win in the last three years will win a championship this year is a bold prediction.

So what makes me think he can and will win the Sprint Cup this year? There are several reasons:

First, he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, so his equipment will be second to none. Look at how many of Hendrick's drivers win races, run in the top five or top ten and contend for championships. Jeff Gordon has won the championship in a Hendricks car four times. Jimmie Johnson has won it five times. Even Terry Labonte got one. Mark Martin came very close even at his advanced age to winning it in a Hendricks car.

If you can drive a race car and you are in one of Rick Hendricks' machines, you are ahead of the game.

Second, Earnhardt's luck is bound to change. He just hasn't had much of it in recent years. Had he gotten a rain shortened win here or a timely caution there, he may have been right in it until the end last year. One of his main problems is his lack of checkers and the lack of confidence that comes with coming up short.

It's kind of like basketball.

You never want to foul a cold shooter because when you put him on the foul line, all he has to do is see the ball go through the net one time and it opens the flood gates.

If Earnhardt can get a lucky win, he just might realize he is pretty good and has really good equipment.

If that happens, watch out.

Third, the new Gen-6 cars have made the field even. Nobody has an advantage now. Everybody is starting over with new cars and nobody really knows what to expect. So Earnhardt has as much chance as anyone else. And since he is part of Sprint Cup racing's best organization, he really has a better chance than all but three teams.

Fourth, he is not all that young anymore.

It's go time.

He needs to start producing wins and championships soon, or he never will. If Hendricks decides he isn't getting it done and makes a move, he'll never get a better opportunity. So he will have to have a sense of urgency this year.

So Dale Jr. is at a crossroads in his career.

How his legacy ends up will greatly depend upon this year. It is crucial that he does well this year if he wants to be considered one of the stars in this sport. It is possible for him to end up as a disappointment if the rest of his career doesn't go well. He is a Daytona 500 Champion, but most expected more of him.

Perhaps, this is unfair. Some of this pressure could be because he really did get off to a very good start. Driving for his legendary father has been both a blessing and a curse. He got taught by the best.

But with that comes a lot of expectations.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not getting by simply on genetics. He is a good race car driver. If it were all about genetics, his brother Kerry would have been more successful. So he deserves a lot of credit for getting where he is today. Remember, his father died when he was still a young pup. Now 12 years later, he is still making it into the Sprint Cup Chase and contending for championships. Maybe he really is doing quite well—just not well enough to live up to his name?

Junior has made the "Chase" three of his five seasons with Hendrick Motorsports. That's pretty good. So he knows how to put himself in position to compete for a championship. And that is half the battle.

Nobody would have picked Brad Keselowski to win the championship this time a year ago. Few would have picked Tony Stewart this time two years ago.

So why not Dale Jr. this year?