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:)
Mar 10, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The F1 supremo is bracing for an unpredictable year in the series.
Mar 10, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
The Ford Motor Company’s director emeritus died yesterday at 88.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
The makers of the beloved NASCAR comedy filed a trademark lawsuit last week in federal court.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski talks about his Vegas triumph. Plus: More on Dale Jr.’s white-hot start and Jeff Burton’s breakdown on how the new rules package impacted yesterday’s race.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
The Penske troops do the wing-and-beer thing in their team shop.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
The new simulator, expected to be used heavily by IndyCar teams and other automotive groups, is set to be fully operational by the end of April.
Mar 10, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
The outspoken Canadian tells a pair of Italian publications that Vettel’s “not going to win this year for sure.”
Mar 10, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Five prior Melbourne winners in field as F1 begins new era this weekend.
Mar 10, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Teams will use Pirelli’s medium and soft compounds in this weekend’s F1 season opener Down Under.
Mar 10, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Big year for Pocono in terms of contribution to Pennsylvania economy.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
2014 marks 10 years since Michael Schumacher’s fourth and last win in Melbourne.
Mar 10, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT
David Reutimann third driver in revolving door of No. 35 FRM Ford.
Mar 10, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Race winners, top-10 finishers off to great start; three of four SHR cars among those with work to do to catch up.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:06 AM EDT
No LMP1s and mostly streamed live coverage will make for a different Sebring viewing experience this weekend.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Youngest American in the field could be primed to make the “year three leap.”
Mar 10, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Tony Kanaan takes over No. 10 Target ride, and seeks a return to title contention.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
A late strategy gamble pays off for Edwards with his best finish of the young Sprint Cup season.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
Kyle was strong during the Kobalt 400 but faded late, while Kurt couldn’t escape mid-pack.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The Richard Childress Racing driver finishes third in a strong effort at Las Vegas.
Mar 9, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Joey Logano was the rubber band man in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
- Talladega Nights-inspired restaurant sued by Sony Pictures 0
- It’s happy hour at Team Penske after Vegas sweep (VIDEO) 1
- Australian GP wide open, both from past stats and preseason tests 0
- For Josef Newgarden, year three is chance to enter IndyCar’s elite 1
- Kanaan set for more than just Indy 500 success with Ganassi switch in 2014 2
- Kurt Busch gives IndyCar chance to show they’ve learned lesson on promotion (10)
- F1 on NBC Sports TV, streaming schedule for 2014 Australian Grand Prix (7)
- Chrysler orders nearly 100 pristine Dodge Vipers destroyed (7)
- NNS: Elliott’s car found too low, shock taken from Keselowski’s car (6)
- Busch news kicks off what may be a busy Tuesday for IndyCar (5)