BROOKLYN, Mich-- In terms of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s forecast isn’t too dour. Following a respectable seventh-place finish at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt is 14th in the standings, just 81 points out of “Chase position,” meaning the top 12.
He’s ahead of two drivers, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, who have won races this year. In terms of expectations, however, Earnhardt is having another difficult year. He has more fans than anyone else in NASCAR, and they expect him to win multiple races and championships.
The expectations may be unreasonable, but they come with the territory of being the son of a seven-time champion.
Asked what he had to say to his fans about the latest race, Earnhardt said, “Hopefully, they enjoyed (the) good run, and I hope that I can bring more of them to them, man. We’ve just got to have a good car, but with the way these races go at the end, you’ve got to have a ton of luck, too, to make a lot of right calls and have the best car at the end.
“But you’ve got to put a good car on the race track, and Lance (McGrew, his crew chief) has done that the last two weeks ... real good cars.”
The timing just might be right. The regular season has 11 more races, affording Earnhardt ample opportunity to reach the top 12 for the Chase, which consists of the final 10 races.
Earnhardt has been in the top 12 after seven of the 15 races in the season to date, five of them in a row at one point.
Earnhardt began the season impressively, finishing a fast-closing second in the Daytona 500 after making a breathtaking charge that fell just short. The Michigan finish matched his best performance since, equaling a seventh-place finish at Bristol. He also finished eighth at Texas, the site of his first Cup victory on April 2, 2000.
“This is the kind of run we want to have,” Earnhardt said after the Heluva Good! 400. “We can do it. The guys taking (the car) to the racetrack have just got to get it right. “We’re not a team that’s challenging for victories just yet, so top 10 (finishes) for us are a direction we need to go.”
Earnhardt, 35, has won 18 of 378 Sprint Cup races. His most recent victory was at Michigan on June 15, 2008.
Dutton has covered motorsports for the Gaston Gazette in North Carolina since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog, NASCAR This Week, http://nascar.rbma.com, features his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.