LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings as the Pennsylvania 400 is scheduled to get underway under cloud-covered skies. The Hendrick Motorsports driver comes to the “Tricky Triangle” with a growing confidence and a positive attitude.
“I’m just ready to go try it out and see what we’ve got. It should be a good weekend.” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Another win by Earnhardt Jr. would be crucial to his season once the Chase begins, a fact that does not go unnoticed.
In response to whether he feels vindicated by his win at Michigan earlier in the summer Earnhardt Jr. said, “Aside from winning a few more races I don’t know how much more of a statement I could have made than what we made this year.
“That’s not quite as important to me as just trying to make the best of this year with the final result being more wins and a championship.
“The closer we get to the Chase, the more real the opportunity seems. So all that stuff comes to the forefront. I know what I need to be focusing on and it’s not whether I got back at somebody or vindicate myself as much as just focusing on what we are trying to do today, this weekend, next weekend, and so forth.”
Earnhardt Jr. is not only trying to win the race today for his team but also for a lucky member of the racing audience who will be $100,000 wealthier if he makes it to victory lane. Pocono Raceway president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky offered the bounty to a lucky fan if Igdalsky’s pick – Earnhardt Jr. – wins.
“Yeah, I really don’t know much about it other than I guess the guy at the race track is going to pay someone some money if we win,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That would be good for whoever gets the money and we’ll be enjoying the trophy in victory lane. Everybody wins, I suppose.”
What Earnhardt Jr. does know and embraces is he is the current points leader. He’s thrilled about it.
“It’s been a long time since I was in the points lead,” he said. “It’s been forever. I can’t even recall when the last time we were in the conversation about the championship.
“So, these things are really validating the effort and the work we’ve done. We’ve worked really hard.”
And now that the hard work is paying off for Earnhardt Jr. he admits his attitude has changed.
“It’s 180 degrees really the way I feel and approach the sport and my job now,” he said. “When I wasn’t competitive that’s all you wanted to be, to run up front and run in the top five. Just have good runs.”
“It didn’t make a difference to be in the Chase if you weren’t going to win the thing and didn’t feel like you could win the championship, you were just taking up a spot – just like Tony (Stewart) felt last year when the Chase started.”
Earnhardt Jr. critiques his current season by saying, “We’ve been quick, but in my opinion we’ve only been the fastest guy probably once or twice this year and I don’t know if that is good enough.
“I’m gonna say it’s not good enough. I know our team would like to win more races. To be able to contend for the championship our team needs another 10 to 15 percent.”
With Earnhardt Jr. starting eighth in today’s running of the Pennsylvania 400, which starts at noon, he should have a good opportunity to find that next win.