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:)
Sep 18, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
While Boris Said was getting ready for this weekend’s IMSA Tudor Championship event at Circuit of the America’s in Austin, Texas, it’s noteworthy to mention that Thursday was his 52nd birthday.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
Michael Waltrip took a big step when he agreed to compete on Season 19 of “Dancing With the Stars.” Now, Waltrip has gone and put his foot in his mouth by trying to kick Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the behind, so to speak.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Given how important – and potentially how wild – the ninth and next-to-last race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be, Phoenix International Raceway is calling in some extra muscle for drivers who may potentially get out of hand.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
Owning a NASCAR team is like being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, they both answer to “Big money, big money.”
Sep 18, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
New Hampshire is one of four New England states to host a NASCAR event and is huge to the racing community in the area. Having four tracks that far North allowed the sport to grow from its southern roots.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Parker Kligerman and Frank Stoddard are split when it comes to the Roush Fenway Racing team. Looking to the Chase, Frank predicts a top 10 finish for Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards, but Parker is less confident.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Frank Stoddard and Parker Kligerman both agreed that Ryan Newman is the driver just below the cutoff line with the best chance of moving on in the Chase.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
NASCAR legend Mark Martin was slated to be a driving coach for Danica Patrick in 2014. Now, in an interview with NASCAR Illustrated, we learn what happened.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
A flagman officiating a race at Bronson Speedway in Archer, Fla., was killed in a racing accident at the track this past Sunday.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:51 PM EDT
Today’s NASCAR America includes two teams in different directions as we prepare for the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Things are looking up for Kevin Harvick’s team, while there’s concern that Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle may not get past the first round of eliminations.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
Mark Martin has received numerous honors in his racing career, but this one could be one of the most unique that will ever be bestowed upon him. Martin will return to his native Arkansas next March to serve as grand marshal for the “2015 World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.”
Sep 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
IndyCar confirms return to Brazil as first 2015 international race.
Sep 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon will set a significant milestone in this Sunday’s second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 18, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
8Star Motorsports’ intentions of joining the Indy Lights grid for 2015 are close to becoming a reality.
Sep 18, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
FIA could be forced to backtrack on plans for this weekend, though.
Sep 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
F1 is renowned for being exuberant and exotic. No event screams it more than the Singapore Grand Prix.
Sep 18, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Everything is in place for the first Russian Grand Prix in 100 years to take place on October 12th.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Twelve finalists named in USF2000 seat shootout.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Massa believes that Williams should be aiming to beat Red Bull despite trailing by almost 100 points in the constructors’ championship.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:27 AM EDT
The Volkswagen Beetle makes its debut at the LA doubleheader round this weekend.
Video from NASCAR America
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