Dale Earnhardt Jr. has fast car, soaring confidence heading into Coca-Cola 600 by Bob Pockrass
Published Wednesday, 23 May, 2012 by Jessica Dunlow.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly won the Coca-Cola 600 a year ago as he ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap, but he might have an even better chance this year.
Earnhardt had a fast car last week at the Sprint All-Star Race, where he won the preliminary Sprint Showdown, won a segment of the main event and finished fifth overall in the non-points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track this weekend for NASCAR‚??s longest event‚??the 600-mile marathon on Sunday.
‚??I think the All-Star Race showed what we are capable of doing for the 600,‚?? Earnhardt said. ‚??We are bringing the same car, and we have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster‚??especially for qualifying‚??that I hope will work out.‚??
To perform well Sunday, Earnhardt will have to run well for 400 laps and not just the 130 he ran last Saturday. Crew chief Steve Letarte wasn‚??t initially going to bring the same car because he already had a car prepped and ready for the 600.
But Earnhardt liked the car so much‚??and there was no damage to it‚??that it will now race again this Sunday.
‚??If we can repeat that sort of speed, we should have a great 600,‚?? Letarte said. ‚??What I like the most about it is we really didn‚??t adjust it all night from when our race started at 7 until it finished (around 11 p.m. ET), and that‚??s the last two-thirds of the 600.
‚??So I hope that will give us a good benchmark to get going.‚??
While he has won an all-star race at the track (in 2000), Earnhardt has never won a points race on the 1.5-mile oval. He has five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 25 career starts at the track.
He is third in the Cup standings with eight top-10s in 11 races this year.
‚??We just get more and more confidence with each other and in each other week in and week out,‚?? Earnhardt said about his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team. ‚??And the engineers that put the setups together are seeing parallels and patterns in what I like and what the car likes, what makes the car fast and we‚??re sort of taking those certain things track to track and improving on our runs from last year.‚??
About the only thing missing this year is a victory as his pesky four-year winless streak has reached 140 races.
That streak almost was snapped a year ago before the deflating finish.
‚??I try not to think about it,‚?? Letarte said. ‚??That one hurts. Last year, we had an OK car, we worked a really good strategy and we ran out of gas trying to win one on fuel.
‚??I think we have more speed this year, which hopefully will open up more strategies.‚??