In '04, Junior started the season with wins at Daytona and Atlanta, a 5th place finish at Rockingham, and a 10th place finish at Darlington. Although some may say Dale Jr. was better at being aggressive in his earlier seasons, he definitely wasn't as good at taking care of his equipment, which led to a few dissappointing finishes early and late in the season.
All in all, 2004 was a great year for Junior, but had he been able to finish the season the way he started we may all have been calling him a former champion. His late season finishes of 33rd at Martinsville and Atlanta effectively removed him from the championship hunt. Even a Phoenix win just before the end of the season couldn't bring him back.
With the 2004 season ending in "What might have been.." Dale Jr. lost his crew chief, Tony Eury Sr., to a "promotion" and began working with his cousing Tony Eury Jr. Fifteen of Junior's nineteen Sprint Cup wins came with Tony Eury Sr., along with two Nationwide Series Championships. Even though the '04 season began with promise, iit ended in a change that didn't go as well as many hoped.
The 2008 season, as in '04, began strong, with three top 5's and a top 10 finish. Everyone was expecting Dale Jr. to show what he could do now that he was finally in Hendrick race cars and away from his stepmother. The fan fare didn't last long, though, as frustration between he and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. grew from inconsistent finishes which gave way to poor finishes nearing season's end.
Again, Dale Jr. was left frustrated and confused in the off season. Soon after, he and cousin crew chief were separated again, and Junior began a long, cold era of his career.
This year, Dale Jr. has started out with 5 straight top 10 finishes, including 3 top 5's. His average finish so far is 4.4, worlds better than any other season. He has 47 laps led so far, 5 less than his season total for 2011, a season which he finished 7th in points.
Dale Jr. is also the current point leader, a spot he has only held in 2 other seasons: 2004 and last year. Only time will tell, however, if he can hold that spot nearing season's end.