Dale Jr. looking for wins to 'get back in it'
September 24, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has whittled points deficits down before. Just how much he can erase in the final eight races of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup remains to be seen.
In a 10-race battle that has threatened to turn into a runaway for a handful of drivers after only two stops, Earnhardt Jr. finds himself 11th in points. He blew an engine in the opener two weeks ago, then rallied for a sixth-place finish Sunday at New Hampshire.
And he heads to Dover International Speedway, site of Sunday's AAA 400, trailing points leader Matt Kenseth by 62.
Kenseth has opened the Chase with back-to-back wins; Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has been second across the line on both occasions.
"Those guys might not have bad finishes," Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame."I know everybody expects that the guy that wins the championship is going to average a fifth-place finish or something ridiculous like that, but they could just as easily have trouble. Everybody could just as easily have trouble."
It's not impossible, he said, that his Hendrick Motorsports team could "win a couple of races and get back in it."
But, he added, "As well as they're running, it's going to be hard to win races. But it can be done and we're going to try to do it."
Wins would be vindication for where his team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte, stands at this juncture of the season, regardless of where the team winds up eight weeks from now.
"We’re due a win," he said. "And we're a good enough team we should have won a race or two this year."
The wins haven't come, however, and Earnhardt Jr. prepares to head north for this week's stop 47 races removed from his last checkered flag in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. He's one of four drivers in the 13-driver field that is winless on the season, but he is also one of only four drivers that led the points at one point this year.
A strong start pushed him to the top after five weeks, but mistakes behind the wheel, miscues on pit road and mechanical maladies took their toll.
"When people ask me about the season, they say we've been consistent," he said, "but I don't feel like we have. … We've had issues. It's either been me making mistakes, calls that … didn't go our way, engine failures, stuff like that that's taken a really good car out of the race."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. answers a question at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday, September 24, 2013.
It was an aggressive approach on the track and in the pits, he said, that put him in contention this past week. "Our strategy was as aggressive as it could have been.
"That was the best car I've had in practice all year," he said. "That's what we need. When we don't tune the car and improve the car on Saturday and when … practice is over and we don't feel confident about the car, that's when we're in trouble. That's when we can really get ourselves lost."
Without a capable car, such a plan of attack is isn't just risky, it's ill advised. A two-tire stop in a car "that's not even competitive with four tires," Earnhardt Jr. said, "it's going to be very difficult to hold that position and … hold that advantage until you can get four tires back on it. It's definitely a challenge."
Although he finished 10th at Dover earlier this year, Earnhardt Jr. described the run as "not that great."
"We've had some fast cars there, I've had some fast cars there in my career and had some good runs," he said, "but in the last several trips we really just haven't been able to find the magic.
"I think we ran a little bit better this last trip … and I think we're a better team now than we were in the spring."