NASCAR: Junior puts bad race behind him
CHICAGO — Winless for more than a year and with just two victories since 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicted Monday that a Sprint Cup series triumph is right around the corner for him.
“We’re working real hard, it could come any weekend,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to Michigan this weekend and feel like it’s a place we can succeed at. Obviously, it’s the place where we won our last two races at (2008 and 2012). We just anticipate it happening any week and go in every week with the attitude that we can be competitive and win the race, and we’ve been pretty strong all season, so the confidence is high.”
Earnhardt finished a dismal 30th in Sunday’s road course race at Watkins Glen in upstate New York, one of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who had bad outings. While points leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson finished eighth, Kasey Kahne wrecked late to finish 34th and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon finished 36th.
“Yeah, yesterday was kind of tough,” Earnhardt said. “We had a good car and was real happy how the car ran. You can’t do much with the luck we had, but we are looking pretty good as far as making the Chase and feel pretty confident that we’re going to be able to do that. . We feel like we’ve got a good shot and we feel pretty confident.”
In the season standings, Earnhardt dropped one position to sixth, while Kahne and Gordon both dropped out of the top 10. Kahne is now 12th while Gordon is 13th.
The top 10 drivers in the standings after the race at Richmond on Sept. 7, plus the two highest-ranked wild card drivers will make up the 12-driver field for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I think they have a great chance,” Earnhardt said of Kahne and Gordon still making the Chase. “They’re in great equipment, with good teams and have good speed. They just need a little luck. I think the cream always rises to the top, and they’re definitely two of the top teams.”
Earnhardt was in Chicago to promote the Chase opener, Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago in suburban Joliet. The fan favorite did a burnout on State Street in front of the Chicago Theatre downtown.
If he doesn’t win Sunday at Michigan or in the three subsequent pre-Chase qualifying races at Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond, Earnhardt hopes to win at Chicagoland, where he won in 2005 and has finished third and eighth in the last two races there.
“I’d love to win again to start the Chase off,” Earnhardt said. “Anyone who wins that race, that really propels them into a contender for the Chase and for the championship itself.”