Streaking Junior ready for green flag
March 08, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
LAS VEGAS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was ready to start Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon.
A full day of testing on Thursday only confirmed what’s been a candidly positive attitude from him about the performance and potential of the new Generation-6 car. And the performance and potential of himself.
His eagerness to take the next green flag is easy to understand when you consider NASCAR’s favorite son is a perfect two top-five finishes in two races this season.
And there’s no mistaking the swagger and smiles for someone never more committed to regaining championship form.
“I’m feeling good,’’ Earnhardt told reporters Friday. “I just hope we get a little time just to make sure everything is working right and get a couple laps Saturday just to make sure everything is cool.
“We’ll be ready to go.’’
"I think we’re going in a good direction. I like the new car."
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the Gen-6 car
Earnhardt has made good on a promise that his runner-up finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- his third second place in NASCAR’s Super Bowl in the last four years -- was a sign of good things to come.
He led 47 laps last week at Phoenix and his fifth place finish keeps him in a tie with reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski for second place in the standings -- only eight slim points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
It’s Earnhardt’s best 1-2 start to a season since he won the 2004 Daytona 500 and answered it with a fifth place at Rockingham, N.C. the next week. He led the points going to Las Vegas that year and ranked among the top-three in the standings for 31 of the first 32 races.
Points leader, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson, along with Keselowski, are the only other drivers with two top fives to start the season.
Depending where you are in the early points standings, it’s either a strong statement out of the gates or nothing to get excited about yet.
“A one-one would be dominant, one-two is competitive,’’ said Johnson, who won the Daytona 500 and finished second at Phoenix.
Conversely, Tony Stewart, who is ranked 23rd , cautions it’s too early to be worried about the standings.
“There are so many things that can happen that I think it’s way too early to be thinking about that,’’ said Stewart, defending winner of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.
Earnhardt has a pair of runner-up finishes at Las Vegas and has led laps in seven races -- including 70 laps last year en route to a 10th place finish. Since 2007, he’s only finished worse than 11th once (16th in 2010).
And unlike some of his competitors, Earnhardt doesn’t seem overly concerned with the transition to the Gen-6 car on the 1.5-mile tracks such as Las Vegas.
“We always want to get better and always want to strive to be better as a sport,’’ Earnhardt said. “I think we’re going in a good direction. I like the new car.
“Obviously, I’ve had a couple good runs with it so I’m excited about what we have going on and things are only going to get better from here as we learn more and more about tires.
Earnhardt turned more laps (70) than anyone else in his No. 88 Amp Energy Orange Chevrolet in Thursday’s test and was immediately pleased with the results.
“We had pretty good speed right off the trailer and just worked with a lot of things,’’ Earnhardt said. “We were ready to race in two hours (of practice) yesterday."
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