Earnhardt Jr. looks to silence critics at Michigan

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is gunning for his first Sprint Cup series win of the season at Michigan...

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is gunning for his first Sprint Cup series win of the season at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. (GETTY IMAGES)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:48 PM ET

The questions about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career are getting more pointed with every passing race.

It has everything to do with the No. 88 Chevrolet team visiting Victory Lane only once in almost four full seasons.

It was at Michigan International Speedway last season at this time that Earnhardt last won a Sprint Cup race and before that his winless streak stretched back to 2008, also at MIS.

He comes to Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 hoping to not just end the current skid but to start a winning streak — something his career is in dire need of.

Questions are now more about whether he will ever get back to consistently winning in NASCAR’s top loop.

For more than a decade, however, the media has treated stock car racing’s favourite son with kid gloves, always giving him the benefit of the doubt, because of who he was and because his popularity among stock car fans never abated even a little bit over his long losing skein.

That, from questions directed at Earnhardt at MIS this weekend, is no longer the case and Earnhardt himself knows it, even while saying he thinks he still has time, at 38 years old, to resurrect his career and establish his legacy.

“I don’t really feel that urgency. I feel pretty young still. I feel like I’m in good shape,” he said. “I feel young in my mind. I feel like I have good energy. I’m not burning out.

“I think that the passion and the commitment probably goes before the physical end of it goes in this particular sport. I feel like I’m in the best opportunity of my career.”

If that is indeed the case, Earnhardt had better get on the gas Sunday and win again at MIS.

He sits fourth in the Sprint Cup championship, 82 points back of teammate Jimmie Johnson, but without a win.

If the regular season were to end now he would go into the NASCAR version of playoffs without a single bonus point.

While NASCAR once rewarded the kind of consistent season Earnhardt is having — remember Matt Kenseth’s championship in 2002 with only one race win — that is no longer the case.

For Earnhardt to make a real run for a championship he has to start winning now.

He may think being close is good but the stats show close really does only count in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“It’s been good to be close,” Earnhardt said at MIS. “That is the difference I think between where we are and where I want to be.

“We want to win more races. We want to win numerous races and multiple races in a season. We want that to be the status quo. We want that to be the norm. We want that to be what is expected.”

Earnhardt might want that to be the case but he has to go out a prove he and the No. 88 team is capable of pulling it off.

Judging from his comments this weekend he might not be aware his ‘time’ had better be now and not tomorrow.

“There is a ‘seize the moment’ kind of feeling because I’m in such good equipment around such good people,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t feel like there is a clock in the background ticking away that is annoying me or anything like that.”

At the same time he realizes his expectations have to start translating into results.

Earnhardt compares that to a kid who wants to goes to bed at night hoping to wake up an adult.

“It’s kind of like when you are a kid and you are getting taller,” he said. “You are 10, 11, 12 years old and you are wanting to be six foot three one day. You can’t tell you are getting taller unless you are marking the door jam. Otherwise you wouldn’t notice any change of height.

“That is kind of what it feels like when you are part of the team. You don’t really notice when things get a little bit better or things get a little bit worse.”

Earnhardt takes solace in the fact that he is coming off a third place finish at Pocono, but two weeks earlier he had a stinker at Charlotte in the Coca Cola 600 where he finished 39th.

“We are working hard,” he said. “We ran good this past weekend and I feel like we will be competitive this weekend.

For the sake of his career he had better be right.

FINISH LINES

In the Nationwide Series Alliance Truck Parts 250 Saturday Regan Smith won in the No. 7 Camaro with rookie Kyle Larson second in the No. 32 Camaro ... A trust fund has been set up for Charile Dean Leffler, the five-year-old son of Jason Leffler who was killed last week in an open wheel Sprint Car race. Donations may be sent to: The Charlie Dean Leffler Discretionary Trust, c/o SunTrust Bank, 232 Williamson Road, Mooresville, N.C., 28117.

CHEVY SWEEPS INDYFEST

Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay won for the second time this season, cruising to victory at the Milwaukee Indyfest 250 on Saturday in the No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

Helio Castroneves strengthened his hold on this year’s championship, finishing second in the No. 3 Penske Racing Chevrolet.

Will Power, who has struggled this season in the No. 12 Penske Chevrolet, rounded out the top three — his only podium finish of the 2013 season.

E.J. Viso was fourth in the No. 5 Andretti Chevrolet.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe made it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five finishers in his

No. 27 Andretti Chevrolet.

It was Hinchcliffe’s best finish outside of his two wins this season and propels him back into the championship picture.

Takuma Sato looked strong the whole race in the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Honda but faded in the final stint to finish seventh.

The top finishing Honda was Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Ganassi Racing machine in sixth.

It was another tough day for Montreal’s Alex Tagliani who spun early in the No. 98 Barracuda Bryan Herta Racing Honda and his race ended after 126 laps with mechanical issues finishing.


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