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Dale Jr.: 'We may have 14-20 different winners'

April 09, 2014, Staff report,

Two-time Michigan winner likes Chase-clinching chances at track

RELATED: Speeds soar above 215 mph at Michigan test

On Wednesday at a Goodyear Tire test at Michigan International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the Brooklyn, Mich., facility would be a good place for him to clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a second win.

Before February's Daytona 500 win made him a virtual lock to make NASCAR's new 16-driver playoff, Earnhardt Jr.'s most recent two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories came at Michigan.

"This is a great opportunity for us, I think, because we do so well here," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I think two wins definitely will assure you an opportunity to race in the (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) championship.

"We're seeing so many different winners each week that I don't know if one win guarantees you a spot. Definitely makes it a lot easier, but we may have 14-20 different winners this year. You just don't know."

Under NASCAR's new Chase format, race winners in the first 26 races who maintain a top-30 points position should earn one of 16 berths. But with seven winners in the season's first seven races, drivers may need a second victory to make the postseason.

The last time there were seven different winners in the first seven races was 2003, and the record for different winners to start the season is 10, in 2000. After 26 races in those years, there were 16 and 13 winners respectively.

"We've still got great speed, still feel good about being able to run well here," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We just did have some bad luck last year."

While leading the Pure Michigan 400 at the track last June, Earnhardt Jr. blew an engine and finished 37th. In August, he led 20 laps before a tire problem sent him into the wall. He finished 36th.

"This is one of our better tracks, and our fans will probably say the same," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Having the success here over the last four or five years has given us a lot of confidence when we come here, and I think that's why Goodyear brings us to test.

"I enjoy racing here. It's a fun track. The asphalt is really aging well and it's just going to keep getting better and better over the next couple of years."

Earnhardt Jr. was asked how quickly new driver-team combinations can come together and become title contenders. He cited the success of a Michigan native and noted a separate fellow winner in 2014 who could contend for his first Sprint Cup title this year.

"It just depends on the people," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It can happen right away. Brad Keselowski and his team, they got together quite quickly and were able to win within the first couple of years.

"Some teams stay together for several years and don't really get it done. Like (Kevin) Harvick. He had been with RCR for a long time and got close, got close. Was always in the top five in points but never really could get to that next level. And he may do it in the next year or two with Rodney Childers and the information and chassis and motors from Hendrick that they've getting."

Earnhardt Jr., who will turn 40 in October, also talked about his future in the sport.

"The age thing is pretty crazy because it just flies by," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I think I got 10 more years at least to hang around and keep driving, and hopefully I'm that fortunate."


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