News & Media

Cup Preview: Anticipation is high for Earnhardt to end drought

April 15, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

Driver feels a sense of obligation to put car out front, keep it there at Talladega

As the Sprint Cup Series arrives at the eighth race of the season, there is a bit of extra drama hanging in the air. Not only is this week's race at Talladega Superspeedway, it approaches with the real prospect of being a memory-maker.

Because this week, an Earnhardt Watch has been issued as conditions appear to be perfect for the formation of a successful run by NASCAR's most poplar driver.

"I definitely don't want to have the same issues we had at Daytona where we had a really good car and didn't take advantage of that and get the finish that we deserved."


The numbers say so and the driver -- albeit cautiously -- says so.

"We're running pretty good," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last week, a day or two before he posted his sixth top-12 finish of the season -- at Texas -- and moved from eighth to sixth in the points standings. "Been running good every week."

Numbers indicate that a mega step for Earnhardt and his Hendrick Motorsports team could be taken this weekend in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at the 2.66-mile high-banked monster.

In 22 starts there, Earnhardt has five victories. That is second most to Jeff Gordon's six among active drivers.

Even though he has had only two top-10 finishes in six Talladega starts since coming to Hendrick, his average finish is still 15.1 there. Among active drivers who have started five or more races at Talladega, that's fifth best.

Earnhardt has led 696 laps, which is second to teammate Gordon among active drivers. He has led laps in 20 of his 22 starts, including all six races in a Hendrick Chevrolet.

"I feel pretty good about Hendrick cars, Hendrick motors," Earnhardt said. "Anytime you go to a track like that, I mean, you have to feel real confident."

The forecast is also for more of the two-car drafting that was the big story at Daytona -- NASCAR's other restrictor-plate track -- in February.

Earnhardt ran well in the 500. He won the pole, led nine laps and was in prime position to finish at or near the top of the field when a late crash took him out.

"I definitely don't want to have the same issues we had at Daytona where we had a really good car and didn't take advantage of that and get the finish that we deserved," said Earnhardt, who is not a fan of two-car drafts. "I'll probably try to take care of my car a little better during the race. It is a very long race."

Should he get a great finish -- as in a victory -- a lot of people will head to work Monday with improved attitudes. Because if Earnhardt Nation has a capital, it is Talladega. Dale Jr. knows it, and he feels it.

"There is definitely an obligation, I guess [to please the fans], that I feel to try to do the best I can to put the car out front all the time at that place for obvious reasons," he said. "But, you try to let the reality of the situation and the job you are doing override that, but sometimes, you just go all out and want to be in the lead all the time, which is not a bad way to go. It has won races for me there in the past.

"And, I don't know if that's exactly what's gotten me in trouble in the last couple of events, but, we just haven't made good choices toward the end of those races. Hopefully I can go back with a better sense of what I need to do and make better judgment calls when it comes down to it."

Who's Hot / Who's Not

-- Matt Kenseth won at Texas, scoring his 19th Cup victory in his 407th start.
-- Regan Smith has scored top-10 starts in six of seven races this season, more than any other driver.
-- Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are the only drivers with four top-five finishes in the first seven races this season.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th or better in the past six races, including his best 2011 finish of second at Martinsville.
-- Mark Martin scored his worst finish of the season (36th) at Texas.
-- Jeff Burton and Joey Logano are both still seeking their first top-10 finish of the season.
-- Kasey Kahne is seeking his first win since Atanta in 2009.

A grandstand full of Earnhardt fans are hoping so, too.