Race Day: Earnhardt Jr. Is Riding A Roll
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s solid third-place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway gives his legions of fans hope that the third generation driver’s 94-race Sprint Cup losing streak might come to an end today in the Jeff Byrd 500.
The high banks of Bristol have been relatively kind to Earnhardt throughout his career.
But to claim is first victory in NASCAR’s top series since a fuel mileage win at Michigan in 2008, Earnhardt will have to overcome a mediocre qualifying effort that will force his No. 88 Chevrolet to line up 22nd in today’s 43-car starting lineup.
Eighty of 100 Cup races at Bristol have been won by drivers starting in the top 10.
And with the red-hot Carl Edwards starting on the pole and Saturday race winner Kyle Busch gunning for his fifth straight NASCAR win at Bristol, Earnhardt will likely be forced to resort to unique pit strategy to gain track position on the .533-mile facility.
But Earnhardt is riding some momentum entering the fourth race of the year.
Despite getting caught up in a wreck during the closing laps in the season-opening Daytona, he has pieced together two consecutive top 10 finishes and climbed to tenth in the championship standings.
“I think we just got to temper our excitement over what we’ve seen so far,” said
Earnhardt, whose lone Bristol Cup win came in August 2004 when he started 30th.
“You know, there have been some positive results. We should have run good, and did at Daytona. Phoenix, I don’t know how well we would have finished had a lot of guys hadn’t had trouble like they did.
“You got to temper your mood a little bit and just keep working hard, keep staying focusing and realize how much further in the season we got to go. I’m comfortable with whatever buzz that creates.”
An offseason crew chief switch that brought Steve Letarte over from Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 car has left Earnhardt cautiously optimistic about today’s race and the remainder of the season.
“Me and Steve are getting along really good,” Earnhardt said. “The environment around the garage and trailer and stuff is good. Hopefully, we can maintain that.
“That’s going to be the challenge, really, me and him maintaining the positive attitude and maintaining communication and the consistency of how it’s working right now. That will determine whether we will succeed or not.
“The season is long. You get pissed off. Things don’t go right you get pissed off. You just got to get through those points when they happen.”
So if Earnhardt is able to keep the fenders on his Chevrolet intact and Letarte makes the correct calls on pit road, can NASCAR’s most popular driver snap his lengthy losing streak today at his favorite track on the circuit?
“We’ll start the race, manage a good race and work ourselves into the top 10, then into the top 5 and try to work ourselves into the top 3″ Earnhardt said, when asked about his expectations for the 500 laps.
“One step after another, we’ll see how competitive we can be.”
– Jeff Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments