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For No. 88, 'Hope is not a strategy; hard work is'

August 04, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Dale Jr., crew chief Steve Letarte break down what's working as Chase nears

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LONG POND, Pa. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte realize how well things are going for the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 team.

Both are appreciative of what the group has been able to accomplish -- three victories and a role as one of a handful of favorites when the subject of this year’s championship is broached.

But both remain cautious as well. Even as the pair enjoyed Sunday’s latest victory, a second win this season at Pocono Raceway, each spoke about how much work remains to be done. Only 21 races have been run. Five more remain before the start of this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

And then it's 10 weeks of bring your best or go home, regardless of what you've accomplished leading into the Chase.

"I think ... that you just kind of have to take it one week at a time and ... there are some areas that we need to get better as a team and as a company," Earnhardt Jr. said after holding off Kevin Harvick to win Sunday's GoBowling.com 400. "And we are working hard in those areas, trying to understand where that magic’s at for those particular events.

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"I believe that when you make assumptions, you end up sort of tricking yourself. If you start to count your chickens before they hatch, so to speak, you're not focusing on the task in front of you. So that's all we need to do. We just need to think about what's going on tomorrow. What do we need to do tomorrow and how do we do it as good as we can do it?"

The team made gains in 2013 -- although winless, Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in points and earned 22 top-10s. But it wasn't until the second half of the season that the car began spending time out front leading laps consistently. He was second best on five occasions, but never the victor.

But those improvements, he said, make this year's success seem "logical."

"After last year, I thought 'well, the only thing we're not doing is winning,' " Earnhardt Jr. said. "We're doing everything else, running second, we're running well every week, so this year we have been winning. And continuing to run consistent.

"Even though the rules are changing, we're understanding what we're seeing, what we're needing, and that's one of the great things about it. As the rules and stuff have changed from year to year, we have been able to adapt really well and we have came out of the gate ... strong each season."

Letarte knows how quickly the tide can turn, however, and he knows what steps are necessary to limit the chances of that happening. It's hard work, he said, that has gotten the team turned around and in its current position, and much more will be required.

What happens next week and next month won’t be determined by what happened yesterday or last week.

"Hope is not a strategy," Letarte, wrapping up his final year as crew chief, said. "It doesn't get you there. Dreaming is not a strategy; it doesn’t get you there. I try not to let anything like that distract us.

"Hard work is a strategy and that’s what we try to do. Homestead is so far from now. You guys will print a different story after Watkins Glen and that’s real. That's real life. My dad, the best advice he ever gave me -- I was reading the sports page one day and I was reading the front and he told me to flip to the back because all the small print in the back, that's the facts. That's really what happened. Everything else is just a story and those were the results.

"I think what we have to do is focus on the results and the rest will come."

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