Sunday, March 27, 2011

Auto Club 400

Dale Jr made his 400th consecutive start in the Sprint Cup Series today, starting 30th, but quickly moving up to the top 20. His rear tire changer Joe Singerland pulled his right hamstring during the first pit stop and the 48/88 backup Cam Waugh replaced him for rest of the race. Dale was between 20th and 10th position most of the day and finished 12th. He moved down two positions to 12th in the standings. Next week, the series comes back out east to Martinsville. Coverage begins at 1pm.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earnhardt credits car, communication for fast start - Mar 26, 2011 - NASCAR.COM

FONTANA, Calif. -- There was a time not too long ago Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have considered a top-10 a victory. The past two seasons, top-10 finishes were few and far between for NASCAR's most popular driver. But with three consecutive finishes of 11th or better, Earnhardt comes into the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway with a different mindset than his past few visits to the 2-mile track located near the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.

"We've done a pretty good job of working well in practice and starting the race with some decent cars," Earnhardt said. "And I'm really happy with the way that things have [gone] during the [past three] races and how the car has gotten better during the races. That's a really good thing.

If Earnhardt is going to score his third top-10 of the season, he is going to have to earn it. The No. 88 qualified 30th Friday but rebounded during practice on Saturday. In the first practice Saturday, Earnhardt was 13th with a lap of 179.417 mph. In final practice, he slipped a little to 18th with a fast lap of 178.967 mph."We're capable of [top-10s]; we're good enough for that. You should come to the race track and expect to run around the guys that are in that position. I feel like we're a legitimate [top-10 team]."

Earnhardt had the fastest 10-lap average in the first practice at 177.941 and backed that up with the fourth-best 10-lap average in final practice at 177.348.

David Ragan paced final practice with a lap of 180.973 mph. Tony Stewart was second-fastest at 180.800 mph followed by Carl Edwards and Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

The good news for Earnhardt is he has already proven he can come from the rear and post a strong finish. Last week at Bristol, Earnhardt was too fast on pit road with 67 laps to go. Instead of calling it a day and riding to the finish, Earnhardt battled back and finished 11th.

"I want to finish good and tried to do whatever I could to finish good," Earnhardt said about last week's race at Bristol. "And I gave [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] the benefit of the doubt that we would improve the car and we did. And it was a pretty decent day. We should have finished higher. I screwed up speeding on pit road and that cost us a lot of spots there. But I'm just trying to do the best I can each week."

Earnhardt credits part of his recent success to feeling more comfortable in the car. In the past, Earnhardt wasn't sure what would happen if he got aggressive on the track. This year, he feels like he can take more risks, and it's paying off at the finish.

"We ran competitive in a couple races last year and showed some speed. For some reason this year, we've been able to improve a little bit better throughout the race and have been able to race in traffic a little bit better," Earnhardt said. "... I can definitely see a difference in how I can be more aggressive in the race with the car. Everything in practice and everything about the team, I don't feel like we're a ton different than last year. But when I get in the car in the race, I just feel like I've got a little bit more grip and a little bit more ability to be aggressive and challenge people. And at least that's how it's been for three weeks.

"There's just something about the car to be able to race a little bit more and race around guys. Normally, you're just hanging on to your car and just trying to keep your car underneath you and you're not really able to race other guys. You can't really even consider racing another competitor [because] you're so consumed with trying to control your own car. But this year that seems to be a little bit different where we've been able to go, 'All right, the car is kind of under us. Let's just race this guy real hard and take some risks and makes some passes and see what we can do.' "

Earnhardt hasn't posted a top-10 at Fontana since 2007. He is winless at the track and his career average finish of 22.3 is the third-worst of all tracks currently on the Cup schedule.

But this is Earnhardt's first trip to Southern California with Letarte as his crew chief. Four weeks into their new partnership, Earnhardt and Letarte have proven that together, they can make things happen. At this point last year, Earnhardt was 13th in points with one top-10. This season, Earnhardt comes into the fifth race of the season ranked ninth with two top-10s.

Earnhardt credits the improvement to an open dialogue between driver and crew chief.

"We just have a lot in common and our personalities make it where it seems like it's easy for us to have a conversation," Earnhardt said. "I've been spending a ton of time around the hauler all day long during each day on Friday and Saturday and when you're sitting there you just never know when that idea or that thought is going to come into your head or come into [Letarte's] head about what might really be able to help the car.

"And if you just sit around long enough, eventually it's going to pop up and I want to be there for that conversation; I don't want him texting me on the phone while I'm in the bus going, 'Hey, I think I know what we can do.' I want to be there so that I can understand and talk about it. I think that's helping us."

Friday, March 25, 2011

This year it does count!!

Ok JR Nation, this year Dale Jr has to be voted into the All-Star Race unless he wins a race before then, which I really hope happens!! Here is the link for the website, vote every day!!

Also, while I'm speaking about voting for something, 
don't forget to vote to make Dale Jr the Most Popular Driver again this year!! 
I have the link post up there on the right.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jeff Byrd 500

Dale Jr had a pretty eventful day. After starting 22nd, going a lap down, getting it back, getting caught speeding entering pit road, he restarted 17th and stayed in the top 15 while dealing with a loose race car. After a pit stop and a change in the car, Dale finished in 11th and moved up one spot in the standings to 9th. Next week the guys head back out west to California.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Earnhardt enjoying progress made with Letarte

Eighth-place finish at Las Vegas gives driver two top-10s to start season

By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM

LAS VEGAS -- You can hear it in his voice. You can see it in his face, and in the results on the scoring tower. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having fun again.
"I'm happy. It's a fun team, a great group of guys," he said. "I'm proud to be a part of it, and hope I can keep working well and keep doing well."
He had good reason to feel that way Sunday, when Earnhardt turned in his third consecutive solid effort to start the season, an eight-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt ran as high as fourth late in the event, but got stuck behind several cars that took two tires on their final pit stops, and then had his No. 88 get tight in the final laps of the race. Even so, the performance follows a 10th-place run at Phoenix, and a Daytona 500 where he was among the leaders late before a cut tire ruined his day.
Working with new crew chief Steve Letarte, Earnhardt has now recorded back-to-back top-10s for the first time since New Hampshire and Daytona in the middle of last season, and he stands 10th in Sprint Cup points -- the highest he's been since he was eighth after Talladega last spring. Perhaps most importantly, Earnhardt continues to show signs that he's capable of ending a winless streak that now stands at 96 events.
And he's clearly enjoying the process.
"We're just doing what we're supposed to do, I reckon. We didn't have too bad a car in practice and I just didn't nail it in qualifying. ... But I guess the best thing that we did all day long was the adjustments. I kept telling Stevie what I thought I needed and what the car felt like it was doing wrong, and he was hitting on it every time. We were kind of working together on some ideas and we hit on one idea that was really good and it really woke the car up," Earnhardt said.
"We decided to take four [tires] at the end, and I'll back Stevie's call there. It might have cost us a spot in hindsight, but we just need to run good and get good finishes under our belt and keep their confidence and keep my confidence up. Midway through the race was the first time in a long time I actually was feeling like I could beat them guys, you know? That I was around. It gave me a lot of confidence [Sunday]; we just need to keep doing that."
Car owner Rick Hendrick paired Earnhardt and Letarte in an offseason personnel shuffle because he thought Letarte's penchant for keeping his driver upbeat and confident could help a driver who's struggled since joining NASCAR's top organization. Sunday, Letarte was at his best. "Come on, buddy. You're absolutely doing great," he told Earnhardt as the driver tried to gain positions in the final laps.
That relationship extends off the track, and goes in both directions. Earnhardt and Letarte -- who won 10 races with Jeff Gordon before being moved to the No. 88 team in November -- met Saturday night with team engineers to discuss what changes to make to the car for the race.
"It's fun in this hauler, man," Earnhardt said. "When you're running good, everything is easier to do. But I really enjoy brainstorming with Steve, and I think having worked with him, I've become better at helping him just in a short period of time. But it's fun to brainstorm with and work with him, and I just want to do good."
Earnhardt can sense he's making progress, which for him is paramount. He's on his third crew chief since joining Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2008 season. If it doesn't work with Letarte, he's not sure where he might turn next.
"Failure at this point is completely unacceptable, and I've got to put it all out on the line and do everything I can to make this work," he said. "If it don't work with [Letarte], I got nowhere else to go. I got no other options, really other than just to race myself into oblivion with my own team and Tony [Eury] Jr. and them guys. But I want this to work. I want to be in a [Cup car] the rest of my career as long as I can, and I want to be successful, and so I'm just trying to work hard, man. We're getting better. It feels like it's working."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kobalt Tools 400

Dale Jr had another good day yesterday at Las Vegas. He started 33rd, and worked his way up to 4th. After the last pit stop, he was stuck back in 8th and that's where he finished. This top 10 finish has put Dale Jr in 10th place in the standings. I don't want to "jump the gun", but I have a feeling this is going to be a good year for Junebug! The Cup and Nationwide boys are off this coming weekend. The next race will be at Bristol, and in memory of the passing of track president Jeff Byrd, this years race will be named the Jeff Byrd 500.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sam's Town 300

Congratulations to Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 for JR Motorsports as she's made NASCAR history. She recorded the best finish by a female driver ever in a NASCAR national series, surpassing Sara Christian who finished 5th at the now defunct Heidelburg Raceway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Danica started 22nd.

Aric Almirola started 14th and finished two laps down in 14th.