Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Owner: Rick Hendrick
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Sponsors: Nationwide, Axalta, TaxSlayer.com
Crew chief: Greg Ives
Entering his second season with crew chief Greg Ives, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has reason to set the bar high in 2016. Despite recording his worst points finish in three years – 12th – the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s position in the final standings wasn’t indicative of his performance. In his first campaign with Ives – a former XFINITY Series crew chief and race engineer for Jimmie Johnson – Earnhardt scored three wins and amassed more top fives (16) and top 10s (22) than he did in 2014. The No. 88 team’s bid to win the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship ended in the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega Superspeedway where Earnhardt was running neck-and-neck with race leader Joey Logano when the final caution flag waved and NASCAR froze the field. Had Earnhardt been ahead of Logano at the time, he would have advanced to the Chase Eliminator Round and remained in title contention. Earnhardt’s team and the entire Hendrick organization finished the year strong after hitting a bit of a lull in the summer months. “Rick (Hendrick, team owner) sat us all down in the summer and told us to get to work, and I didn’t know if we could work any harder, but when Rick tells you to get to work, you find something else to do every minute of the day,” Earnhardt said. “Everybody is working harder, and the guys in the engine shop found some power. They done a lot of work trying to improve there. All the teams in the fab shop started working harder to build better cars, newer cars, different cars, trying things, and we found some speed.” Despite the mid-season struggles for the entire organization, Earnhardt was pleased with the effort, and enters 2016 with arguably his best opportunity yet to capture an elusive title in NASCAR’s top series. The only real question mark for Earnhardt’s No. 88 team comes in the role of lead engineer, where Tim O’Brien has replaced Kevin Meendering, who held the position for five years before leaving to become the new XFINITY Series crew chief for Elliott Sadler. O’Brien spent 2015 at Michael Waltrip Racing where he was the lead engineer for the No. 55 team.