Junior running well with 11 regular-season races left

By Monte Dutton
NASCAR This Week
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 stands 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. But Earnhardt has more fans than anyone else in NASCAR, and they expect him to win multiple races and championships.
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 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.
“This is the kind of run we want to have,” he said after the Heluva Good! 400. “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 his 378 Sprint Cup starts. His most recent victory was at Michigan on June 15, 2008.

John Pitts