Minter: Has The Son Started To Rise Again?
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
The Earnhardt Nation has reason to rejoice. Its driver is starting to act like an Earnhardt again. It was evident last week during an appearance in Atlanta and it showed again on Sunday during the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where he put on a hard charge at the end to finish third, his best effort since Talladega in April.
Earnhardt was somewhat guarded in his post-race comments, but it’s clear that the finish was a momentum builder heading into a stretch of races at tracks where he’s historically had success.
“I don’t want to get too excited,” he said. “You want to be up front every week like this. You want to be there the whole race. You don’t want to just come up there through the last 50 laps and surprise everybody.
“We’re getting better as a team. It’s just really, really hard to be patient, be mindful and respectful of everybody, just hold your tongue every once in a while.
“But we’re working really hard. Never worked so hard to run third.”
He admitted that he’s not been the best driver to work with at times, but he said he’s doing his best to fix that.
“I’m my own worst enemy I guess in the middle part of a race when I see us not going the right direction, and I know how difficult and how much of a challenge it is to keep track position and gain any track position on the race track, so I just get so frustrated,” he said. “Since I started working with (crew chief Lance McGrew), I’ve been trying to work really hard to be the same person at the end of the race that I am at the start of the race mentally. “That really helps them stay focused on their job and working on the car instead of having to control me and my problems. They can think about what they’re looking at on the laptops, figuring this, that and the other, everything those engineers are telling them in their ear.
“I think it just comes down to sticking with it, staying with the team, and trying to be part of a solution instead of a part of the problem.”
He also said that regaining confidence in himself and developing a little swagger is another key to returning to the form he had in years past, when he won multiple races and was a regular championship contender.
“You just have to run good,” he said. “When you don’t run good it beats you up. And it beats your confidence out of you. If you could just get a couple of top-five finishes it changes the whole morale of the team.”
Earnhardt’s growing confidence was also evidenced by his comments on a variety of subjects, some of which sound a lot like something his late father might say. Last week, he took NASCAR to task for not working harder to make a better race car out of the Car of Tomorrow.
“(NASCAR officials) don’t seem as willing, even themselves, to produce a better race car that will put on the type of races that we all wish to see,” he said. “I feel like in a way we are holding ourselves back. We’re short-changing ourselves.
“We have the technology and the people to build a car that will make for exciting racing – side-by-side dramatic racing that will sell tickets, excite fans and thrill people – but we have yet to pursue and try to obtain that.”
That drew a response from NASCAR president Mike Helton, who told reporters at Michigan that he wasn’t open to any changes to the car.
“As you talk to the principals in the garage area — the team owners, the crew chiefs, the car chiefs — there seems to be in all these conversations a consensus around ‘don’t make any major changes right now because we don’t want to tackle those, we’ve spent a long time now understanding this car and don’t throw a wrench in all of that by making us start over,” he said.
Earnhardt weighed in on the new double-file restart rules, saying he’s all for them even if they cause mayhem at times.
“I really, really enjoy the double-file restarts,” he said. “A lot of people assume that the drivers wouldn’t like them because anything that makes our job more difficult we don’t tend to be too pleased about.
“But we were just as hungry for some excitement and drama in our racing as everyone else. We’re as concerned about the health of the sport as everybody. It’s our livelihood.
“Now driver aren’t balking and upset as much when the phantom debris cautions come out. We used to hate those because we were in the middle of race. Now it’s looked upon as when we get these crazy cautions coming out everybody says ‘great, it’s an opportunity to pick up some more spots on this double-file restart’ because that’s really your best chance to make up positions, unfortunately.”
He agreed with several others in the sport that some 500-mile races are just too long. “Pocono is at the top of that list, and Dover’s a close second,” he said. “I think the shorter races are more exciting races. In a 500-mile race, there’s a good chunk of anywhere from 200 to 300 miles of wait and see, where all the drivers are sort of just trying to protect their positions,
“We could cut back on that, because that’s not very exciting, even for the guys doing it.”
Earnhardt proclaimed his Nationwide Series efforts a success, saying he’s done with Brad Keselowski, whose win on Saturday at Michigan was his third of the season, just exactly what he set out to do in the beginning.
“I’m standing here holding the trophy I always wanted out of that deal, and that was to take somebody and help turn them into a race driver that gets the opportunity to race in the Cup series,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done with Brad. I feel as if we’ve succeeded at what I chalked up on the screen as our ultimate goal.”
Now it’s on to Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, his top three tracks in terms of average finishes.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment