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Earnhardt Jr. looks to recreate Michigan magic

August 17, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- No. 88 driver will try to win again at track where he broke 143-race winless streak

For Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michigan International Speedway figures to be the right track at the right time.

Following disappointing results at Pocono (32nd) and Watkins Glen (28th after a last-lap crash), Earnhardt is back at the track where he snapped his 143-race winless streak in June, the track at which he's captured the past two of his 19 career Sprint Cup victories.

"If the wins want to wait and come in the Chase, that's fine with me, too. But we want to win every opportunity that we get out at the race track. We don't show up to lose."


Sitting fourth in the standings, 17 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt, 37, says his victory in the June 17 Quicken Loans 400 established his team as threat to not only win races but also to win the Chase.

"Getting over that hurdle, getting that first win, reassures you that your team can win," said Earnhardt prior to Friday's first practice for the Pure Michigan 400.

"I think if we were still winless, we would feel a bit snake-bitten or somewhat cursed. That might mess with your psyche a little bit. But once you do break through that barrier, it definitely gives you reason to believe you can do it again at any moment."

* Sound Off: Earnhardt Jr. on trying to repeat, pre-Chase goals

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne thinks the win was a "great confidence boost for the 88 team" and helped transformed Earnhardt.

"I think he's as passionate and into the racing as I've seen him," said Kahne, who now views Earnhardt as a legitimate Chase contender.

"I think any one of [our Hendrick] teams can be really strong in the Chase," he said. "I would say Dale, as consistent as those guys have been this year [and] as well as they're working with the 48 [of Johnson], I can see the 88 running strong through the Chase and having an opportunity to win it."

Kahne will get no argument from Johnson, who has three victories this season and leads the standings by a single point.

"I think in the Chase that you clearly need to win races," Johnson said. "Tony [Stewart] had to win half of them to win the championship [last year]. With what we've seen from Steve [Letarte, Earnhardt's crew chief] and Junior and how consistent they've been and all the laps they've led, they're [looking] real close to being on a hot streak with the victories. We're not light years different from them in the win category."

Matt Kenseth, third in the standings and two points behind Johnson, said he could see Earnhardt's Michigan victory coming.

"You knew it was only a matter of time," Kenseth said "Those guys, all year long, had been running up in the top three or four, leading laps, challenging to win. When you see somebody run like that, you know it's only a matter of time. I think it had to be a relief and somewhat of a weight off his shoulders."

Victories remain the primary item lacking from Earnhardt's resume, and he knows it.

"We feel like we've been so strong this year," he said. "We're just a little shy in the win column [given the way] we have performed.

"If the wins want to wait and come in the Chase, that's fine with me, too. But we want to win every opportunity that we get out at the race track. We don't show up to lose. We want to win more races because we need more bonus points so we can lead the points once we go to Chicago [for first race of the Chase]."

Earnhardt thinks his team is "better and faster" than it was in June at Michigan, when he overcame a 17th starting position to lead 95 of 200 laps, including the final 30. His car was the fastest on 39 laps that race.

"No one was even close to him," Kahne said.

"There's a little added pressure, I guess, to go out and have the same performance and run the same," Earnhardt said.

But tracks differ week to week. Goodyear is beginning the weekend with a different tire than it brought in June, and NASCAR has tweaked the rear sway bar requirements.

"Out setup is pretty much the same," Earnhardt said. "All we did was wash the car. I don't think we even touched it since [June]. That's what I was told."

It's already been a productive week for Earnhardt off the track. His team signed a new sponsorship deal with the Army National Guard for 2013. It will be a primary sponsor for 20 races next season, two more than this year.

"I was real happy to have the Guard sign," said Earnhardt, whose negotiations skirted Congressional examination of armed services sponsorships. "I think it's good for our team and good for our sport. I feel pretty comfortable with the agreement and think it's concrete."

Earnhardt also entered a deal with Rick Hendrick to become owner of two auto dealerships in Tallahassee, Fla. -- one a Chevrolet franchise, the other selling Buicks, Cadillacs and GMCs.

Becoming an auto dealer provides a touch of "back to the future" for Earnhardt, who intends to be "hands-on"

"It's something I've always been interested in doing," he said. "That was going to be my profession if I hadn't been a race-car driver. I was going to work in a dealership as a mechanic or something. It's what I did to pay my power bills for four years."