Dale Jr.: 'We're not giving away wins'
November 06, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
FORT WORTH, Texas – Team owner Rick Hendrick doesn’t have to look at results pages or check headlines to know his driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a good Chase. It’s a lot simpler than that.
"You can see it in the way he walks," Hendrick said Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt collected his third runner-up finish in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
"You can see it when he gets out of the car. You can see it when I talk to him about the race. He’ll send me a text and say, 'Man, that car was good.'… or, 'I loved driving that car like that.'
"I see it in the way he goes to the race track and how he prepares for the race talking to (crew chief) Stevie (Letarte). His confidence is at an all-time high. You can just see it in his face."
With Sunday’s showing, Earnhardt moved up two positions in the points standings to fifth place with only two races remaining in NASCAR’s championship run. He trails third place Kevin Harvick by 22 points and should he be able to catch Harvick, it would tie Earnhardt’s best ever championship finish and it would also be his best finish in the Chase.
Take away a rare Hendrick engine failure in the No. 88 Chevy at the Chase opener in Chicago and Earnhardt would likely be challenging championship frontrunners Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth for the trophy.
He has six top-10s in the seven Chase races since Chicago. And only his teammate -- and Sunday’s winner Johnson (4.8) -- has a better average finish than Earnhardt (6.1) since Chicago.
The impact of that lone mulligan is not lost on Earnhardt, but it’s not something he dwells upon either. It’s actually been a source of motivation.
"The Chicago deal is regrettable, we’d love to go back and do that over again," said Earnhardt. "But as soon as that happened we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race. Winning a race would really lift all the team’s spirits.
"You work all season long not to be winless and I know how much the guys want it on the team. So that's what we’re working for now."
He paused, "Yeah, I think about it a little bit. But there isn’t much you can do about it. I’ve got two races to go and we’ d love to get a win in one of them and continue to have a good run here in the Chase."
Sunday was sort of a bookend effort for Earnhardt, who also finished runner-up to Johnson in the season-opening Daytona 500 and spent the early portion of the season ranked among the top-three in points.
And while the strong late season run is a big boost of confidence, it’s been 53 races -- more than a year -- since he last visited Victory Lane. The five runner-ups for him in 2013 aren’t cases of lost opportunity but just-misses.
"It’s a matter of being close," Earnhardt said. "You know, we’re not running second by making mistakes. We’re not giving away wins.
"So I feel like we’re just really getting close to cracking through and just trying to maintain the momentum with races to go is going to be tough. But that’s what we’re focusing on.
"We want to put forward a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you’re in there for a season and you don’t want to be an also-ran. So we feel like we’re doing a lot of good work and getting really close to breaking through and getting a win."