Earnhardt Jr. says 'races can't come fast enough' amid strong Cup start

Posted Monday, Apr. 09, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Everybody asks Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he's more confident these days, and he answers yes.

Why not?

He's second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings, and he's coming to Texas Motor Speedway, where he won his first Sprint Cup race and his first Nationwide race.

But that's not all there is to it. Maybe it's a pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte. Maybe it's improved driving. Maybe it is just as simple as confidence.

Earnhardt shrugs. He just knows he's getting high finishes and things are going better than they have in years past.

"I don't really know how to measure confidence, but we feel pretty good about what is going on and what is happening to us and how the thing is going down," he said after the April 1 race at Martinsville, Va., where his third-place finish moved him to second in the driver standings, his highest after the first six races in four years.

"Some tracks you just don't hit it on, and we have a handful of those tracks, but we are starting to run more consistently up front at more racetracks," he said. "And hopefully this year we have solved a few cases, and we will just have to find out when we get to them. But yes, confidence is good, and confidence is up real high.... The races can't come fast enough for our team right now because we are ready."

Earnhardt, who will run both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races this weekend at TMS, is off to the best start of his career. He's been runner-up at Daytona and has posted back-to-back third-place finishes in the past two Cup starts, at Fontana, Calif., and Martinsville.

It bodes well for an end to a winless streak that has reached 135 races. A driver of his skill (18 Sprint Cup wins and 23 Nationwide wins) in his equipment (Hendrick Motorsports) is overdue.

"It would take a lot of pressure off of our sport, because he's such an iconic figure in our sport," said Sprint Cup leader Greg Biffle, who leads Earnhardt by six points. "... There's a lot of people wondering when he's going to win again. I got enough people asking me when I'm going to win my next race. But when you have a figure like that, that means a lot to our sport."

The streak has come awfully close to ending.

In the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt finished second to winner Matt Kenseth, unable to run down the winner on the final lap.

At Las Vegas, he had one of the best cars in the race, led 70 laps, and finished 10th.

At Fontana, he was running third when rain stopped the race.

In Martinsville, he got through the wreck that wiped out the leaders and ran third.

Now it's on to TMS, where in three of his last four races, he's had a top-10 car.

"We've really been competitive," Earnhardt said, looking over his results, which include nothing worse than 15th. "I like how our season is going so far. If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal eventually.

"We are really liking being at the track and being on the track, making laps and working."

Does that sound like confidence? Yes.

Junior's best and worst

Texas Motor Speedway is one of the best tracks for Dale Earnhardt Jr. A look at five of his best and five of his worst:

Strong five

Track

Starts

Wins

Poles

Avg. Fin.

Talladega

24

5

0

15.0

Richmond

25

3

0

14.4

Daytona

25

2

1

14.5

Atlanta

24

1

2

12.8

Texas

19

1

2

14.1

Bad five

Track

Starts

Wins

Poles

Avg. Fin.

Fontana

20

0

0

20.8

Indianapolis

12

0

0

21.7

Sonoma

12

0

0

22.2

Watkins Glen

12

0

0

22.2

Homestead

12

0

0

23.1

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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