Jul 4, 2013, 10:49 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. once was the undisputed king of restrictor plate racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
From 2001 to 2004, Earnhardt won seven plate races. Five came at Talladega Superspeedway (including four in a row from 2001 to 2003).
Two other wins came at Daytona International Speedway: the 2001 Pepsi 400, an emotional homage to his father, who was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 less than five months earlier, as well as the 2004 Daytona 500.
But Junior has not won a plate race in nearly nine years, the last being in October 2004 at Talladega.
Add it up and he hasn’t won a restrictor plate race in his last 34 attempts!
Sure, he’s come close with three runner-up and three other third-place finishes at Daytona, and a runner-up at Talladega, but the fact remains he isn’t the plate racer he once was.
And no one knows that better than Junior.
“We’ve come awfully close trying to win the 500 in the last few years,” Earnhardt said during his weekly media availability Thursday at Daytona. “We’ve been finishing well, but haven’t really been able to figure out what I need to do to get into first place on the last lap.
“We’ve had no problem finding our way to the front, but not been able to overtake the leaders. So, I think we might need to try to be at a better position sooner, where we’re not having to have to do so much right at the end of the race and not have an opportunity to challenge for the win.”
As he prepares for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400, Earnhardt knows what he has to do in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – both in the race itself as well as for the remainder of the season as he once again continues to chase his first Sprint Cup championship.
“Maybe throughout the race trying to be a little more proactive toward improving track position, being a little more aggressive just trying to improve track position might be in our best interest if we want to try to have a shot at winning,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt was aggressive earlier this season, with finishes of second (Daytona 500), fifth, seventh, sixth and second (Fontana) in his first five starts. In fact, Earnhardt even was No. 1 in the Sprint Cup standings after Fontana – albeit for just one week.
But in the last seven weeks, Earnhardt hasn’t had the same kind of performance as earlier in the season, battling inconsistency and, surprisingly, engine issues in at least two races.
As a result, he’s dropped from third to a season-low of seventh before climbing back to sixth place in the weekly standings the last two weeks.
He’s looking to climb back up even further Saturday and has his strategy already set in his mind.
“Being aggressive and trying to get track position or make track position happen or move forward, just mentally aggressive, not out there driving in the side of everybody, more so, just trying to force myself to take a few more chances,” Earnhardt said.
One other thing that Earnhardt, who hasn’t won a race now in more than a year, will likely change for Saturday: to make what he hopes is his race-winning kick a little bit sooner than he typically does.
“You just continue to leap frog one at a time, but that one guy you aren’t successful with (as a drafting partner) you go all the way to the back,” he said. “It’s a gamble, but maybe if you want to win the race, I’ve got to be further ahead than fourth on the last lap.
“We had enough race car to win the (Daytona) 500 and just ran out of laps. I need to be a little further forward to be able to have that shot.”
(By the way, in case you want to take a trip back memory lane to see Junior’s last plate race win, here it is:)
Jul 23, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. discussed some of the biggest wins of their careers and talk about the importance of the Brickyard 400 on the NASCAR calendar.
Jul 23, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR AMERICA, 2014 Coke Zero 400 winner Aric Almirola took a look at the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid and also evaluated Richard Petty Motorsports’ performance through the first 19 races of the 2014 season.
Jul 23, 2014, 6:37 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR AMERICA, Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. previewed Sunday’s 21st running of the Brickyard 400 at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Erik Jones takes first career Truck pole — and does it in first time racing on dirt — for MudSummer Classic at Eldora
Jul 23, 2014, 6:27 PM EDT
Before Wednesday, the only dirt Erik Jones ever raced on was back in the tiny rural town he grew up in, little Byron, Mich., population 561. On two feet, too. But that didn’t stop Jones from winning the pole for tonight’s MudSummer Classic NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne, healthy, rides into training camp as a passenger in a two-seater IndyCar driven by Ed Carpenter.
Jul 23, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
Hey there, NASCAR AMERICA is back! After a brief vacation just like the Sprint Cup drivers enjoyed during the last off-weekend of the 2014 season, we’re back in the studio and at the shops, ready to give you the latest news in the world of NASCAR.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney recorded the top speeds in the two practice sessions for Wednesday night’s second annual MudSummer Classic NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Video highlights from the Honda Indy 2 in Toronto on Sunday.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sage Karam fills in for Memo Rojas at IMS for the TUDOR Championship race this weekend.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
University student gets to interview Joey Logano at New Hampshire, and fortuitous timing before his day ended early due to contact with Morgan Shepherd.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:43 AM EDT
Eldora Truck race tonight seeks to be as good as the original.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
Time has not lessened the significance of winning at Indy for these three NASCAR standouts.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT
The Outlaw returns to Indianapolis for the first time since his Indy 500-Coke 600 double back in May.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT
The Team Penske pilot is putting up his six-bedroom Miami penthouse for a cool $14 million. Better start saving up…
Jul 22, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Seeking to catch up with their Ford stablemates at Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing’s trio of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have been searching for speed in a two-day test session at Michigan International Speedway.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The new, 92-foot pylon is made up of four LED panels capable of video animations that relay race info to fans.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Recapping the future stars of IndyCar in action at Toronto this weekend.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
A report from Mexico says that Bernie Ecclestone has signed a five-year pact to bring F1 to Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez starting next season.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A miserable home weekend in Toronto strikes James Hinchcliffe yet again.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:41 PM EDT
Williams’ deputy team principal on Massa: “He is mature enough – and has enough experience in the sport – to realize that sometimes, things don’t go your way.”
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- IndyCar: Toronto weekend analysis, musings and observations 0
- NASCAR’s Brian France on RTA’s formation: “We didn’t think it was necessary” 13
- Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate 0
- Todd Gilliland, 14, outdistances father David, grandfather Butch in first time they’ve all raced together 0