Tuesday, May 31, 2011

For Earnhardt, real progress behind the skid

By David Caraviello

CONCORD, N.C. -- It was all right there before him, a race track as wide as a rural Interstate highway, and one of NASCAR's grandest trophies just waiting to be claimed. Vehicles stacked up on the final restart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. vaulted into the lead as if slung from a catapult. As the No. 88 car passed under the white flag, the crowd at Charlotte Motor Speedway united in a roar that muffled even 850-horsepower engines, all in anticipation of a 104-race winless streak ending in dramatic fashion on one of the sport's biggest stages.

Everyone was celebrating -- except the driver inside the red, white and blue car. Earnhardt knew better.

"I never thought I was going to make it," he said, after he ran out of gas to finish seventh in the Coca-Cola 600. "I'm sitting there going, I'm standing in the throttle, and whatever happens, happens. I never really knew or felt like, 'Oh, I've got this in the bag.' We're supposed to be out of gas. [Crew chief] Steve [Letarte] said we should be out of gas while we were riding around in the caution there before the green-white-checkered. So I was like, we definitely ain't going to make these two green flag laps if that's the case."

And he didn't, running dry on the backstretch, but carrying enough momentum through Charlotte's high-banked corners that it wasn't until he slowed off Turn 4 that reality set in for those in the grandstands. Other contenders zipped by, eventual race winner Kevin Harvick among them, relegating Earnhardt and his legion of supporters to another agonizing close call, and adding another agonizing week to those since his last Sprint Cup victory, now nearly three years ago. He won that one, at Michigan, on fuel mileage. Sunday, he had victory snatched away for the same reason.

For all those with 88s stuck to their car bumpers or tattooed on their arms, it had to be a crushing night, especially given how well Earnhardt had run for the duration of NASCAR's longest event. And yet, standing in the garage and surrounded by cameras and microphones, Earnhardt hardly seemed devastated. No, chances to win races clearly don't come around that often for a driver with a winless streak that's stretched into triple digits. But all the hand-wringing over that breakthrough victory, and the unending focus on when it might come, obscures the real progress being made.

No, Earnhardt didn't win the Coca-Cola 600. But on the same track where his car had been garbage the week before, he was in the mix from Thursday's opening practice session until the checkered flag fell on Sunday night. This on a track where he admittedly hasn't been very good in recent years, in a marathon event of the ilk Earnhardt very well may have grown tired and frustrated and cranky in not too long ago. This was real growth, of the kind that Earnhardt needs to make the Chase and return to championship relevance, and it was there whether he wound up in Victory Lane or not.

"To be honest, I know there's disappointment about coming so close , but our fans should be real happy about how we're performing, how we're showing up at the race track, how we've adapted," said Earnhardt, who remained fourth in points. "We've definitely improved things, and we want to keep getting better and better and better. ... We're definitely going in the right direction. I felt like a true frontrunner tonight. I've felt like that sometimes this season. But the 600 is a true test. Charlotte is a true test of a team, and we performed well all night long."

Particularly when you look at where they were just a week ago, when Earnhardt was voted into the Sprint All-Star Race by the fans, and yet finished a distant 14th. "I think we were embarrassed, I know I was, with how we ran last week," Letarte said. "The fans voted us into the All-Star Race and we couldn't make any ground. That's just not really acceptable. We worked hard this week, and we brought a car that could compete, and we're proud of it."

They came back to Charlotte with a newer car, and a setup approach they had used at intermediate tracks earlier in the year. The moves paid off, as Earnhardt overcame a poor qualifying spot and within 60 laps had cracked the top 10. But repeated cautions toward the end knocked teams off their fuel strategy, and Earnhardt was one of 10 drivers who decided to stay out of the pits and make a dash for it. One of those was Harvick, the winner. Another was Kasey Kahne, who restarted in the lead with Earnhardt on his inside, but ran out of gas as the field approached the first turn. Kahne's car wiggled as it was struck by the onrushing vehicle of Brad Keselowski, and two cars spun in the choked-up aftermath, but in NASCAR's eyes the field righted itself quickly enough and kept rolling, so the caution flag stayed furled.

"There were spins and stuff," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, "but they all got rolling, so it was OK."

For Earnhardt and Letarte, staying out was the only option. "I just do whatever my dang crew chief says, but I believe that was the right call," Earnhardt said. "Because if we'd have pitted, I don't know where we would have finished. We'd have finished wherever David Ragan finished. That was probably in front of us. But think about it, man. Winning the 600, that would be awesome. I had to try. Had to try."

Ragan finished second, but unlike Earnhardt, didn't have a real shot of winning the race. "The guys had it figured perfect," Letarte said. "They said, you're going to run out somewhere on the backstretch, and it ran out going into [Turn] 3. It's still a very calculated risk. I think it was worth taking. The winner took it, so why not."

Even so, it was heartbreaking to watch, even for the competition. "I feel so stinkin' bad for them," Harvick said. "I know how bad he wants it. But it will happen. They keep running like that, it will happen."

At some point, of course, that albatross of a winless skid is going to have to be unloosed from around Earnhardt's neck. The way he's run for much of this year -- he also had a real chance at Martinsville -- you have to think it's coming at some point. But this is a sport that is built on consistency, and a program that had to be rebuilt from the cars all the way to the driver's confidence. A sole focus on getting one win obscures a movement toward a time when it won't seem like a surprise anymore when Earnhardt is up front. He may not ever get back to his glory days with Dale Earnhardt Inc., when he dominated restrictor-plate tracks and won six times in a single season. But this is also a team and a driver worlds removed from the ones that finished 25th and 21st the past two seasons, win or lose in one single event in Charlotte.

"I know we're doing a good job, I know we're unloading good cars," Earnhardt said. "The car we unloaded in the [All-Star Race], I didn't get into the meeting about what the plan was, and it wasn't a good car. Tonight we had a good car, and we showed it. I'm real happy with our effort. These guys got to lift their heads up, man, because we're doing a good thing. We're building a good team and a good chemistry. They keep their heads up, we'll keep on improving, and that's what's important. We let this bother us too much, and we won't improve as much as we can. We want to win races. We're getting close enough to where a couple of them are about to fall in our lap. We get that extra step, we'll be in business."

Like the cars, the driver is a work in progress. "Next time I come here, I'll feel more confident when I show up," he said. "I wasn't confident this week even though the lap times were great in practice and the car was ... really good. I've got to get more confidence. Even though this weekend we showed up and were really fast in practice, I thought, 'Yeah, yeah, I've seen this before. The race starts and let's see what happens.' It was great."

He felt that way even though he didn't win, even though his National Guard-backed car lost on the final lap just as its counterpart in the Indianapolis 500 had done earlier in the day. Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless skid continued on Sunday. But so did his unquestioned growth toward something bigger, even if sometimes it's difficult to see.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day, Happy Memorial Day, Animated Graphics, Animated Gif, Animated Gifs, Keefers Pictures, Images and Photos

Will she or won't she?

Rumors are flying about Danica coming to NASCAR full time. As for Jr, he's leaving the decision up to her. If she wants to stay with Chevy, her best bet is sign with Stewart-Haas Racing. We'll see.

Coca-Cola 600

He was soo close!! Dale Jr started 25th andhad a great race car all night. Stevie made all the right calls and Dale was in position to win and had the lead right at the end, but ran out of fuel 500 ft before the checkered flag. Although it was a huge let down for JR Nation, it shows that a win is in sight and we'll be there to go nuts for Dale when it happens.

Here's a few quotes from Dale after the race last night.

He was as happy with his effort, maybe happier, than the winner nicknamed "Happy" was with his. "To be honest, I know there is disappointment about coming so close" Earnhardt said after maintaining his spot at fourth in points.

"But our fans should be real happy with how we're performing. We've definitely improved things. We want to keep getting better and better."

"Think about it, man, winning the 600. That would be awesome. I think I had to try ... had to try."

Even winner Kevin Harvick knows how badly Dale Jr wants to win and made this comment about it -

“ I feel so stinking bad for him. "I know how bad he wants it. It'll happen. If they keep running like that it'll happen." ” -- Kevin Harvick on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak Earnhardt didn't look nervous on the restart, jumping to a big lead.

Next weekend is Kansas.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Way To Go JR Nation!!!

Even though he didn't win the All Star Race, Jr Nation made sure that Dale didn't miss out on the event this year!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. frustrated with track conditions, 12th-place finish at Dover

By Bob Pockrass

DOVER, Del. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to play defense for part of the FedEx 400 on Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

He wasn’t defending his position on the track as much as defending himself from wrecking his car. Earnhardt Jr., who finished 12th, was frustrated by chunks of tire rubber on the track that kept him from using the inside groove.

“The track is so banked that the marbles get thrown off the car and roll back down into the groove and we run over them and mash them into the hot, sticky rubber that’s being put down,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It just makes for a scary, scary entrance [to the corner] – just real loose.

“Everybody had the same problem. You had to dodge these patches. That’s just annoying. It never really used to do that until the last couple of tires. It’s a good tire, it’s just an anomaly with this surface and this banking.”

Earnhardt Jr. ended up finishing 12th as crew chief Steve Letarte tried a two-tire pit stop with 38 laps remaining to move from ninth to third. But he was one of the few drivers who couldn’t make two tires work and had to settle for 12th despite running in the top 10 for much of the final 80 laps of the race.

“Those kind of decisions, I leave in Steve’s hands,” Earnahrdt Jr. said. “I thought it was a great call. I tried to do the best I could.

“I wasn’t up on the wheel. The restarts were tough running on the bottom running through the marbles. Some guys could handle it. I couldn’t handle it.

“I didn’t do the best job on that restart. I lost a lot of spots. I was just real tight, and loose and tight and loose and it was just slick all over. Guys were getting around me with four tires. … We just got beat at the end pretty bad. I tried to hustle it but I couldn’t hustle it no more.”

The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained fourth in the standings, 52 points out of the lead and with a 40-point cushion on 11th.

His 12th-place finish tied his best finish at Dover in his last seven races at the track.

“Twelfth [today] is decent – when they take 12 for the championship, I think that’s a decent day,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We ran hard and I’ve just got to hustle a little bit more in some areas on restarts.

“Starting on the inside in the marbles, I was just nervous about driving up beside somebody and knocking myself out of the race. There was a lot of things I could have done differently, but it was a decent finish. … That’s the best I’ve run here in a long time.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Schedule of events for All-Star week

It's finally here! Thursday kicks off All-Star week on SPEED and FOX --

Here is the schedule of events for the next two weeks ....

Thursday, May 19th - Pit Crew Challenge - 8pm on SPEED

Friday, May 20th - Camping World Truck Series - 
NC Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte - 8pm on SPEED

Saturday, May 21st - NASCAR Sprint Showdown - 7pm on SPEED
                          - The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race - 8:30pm on SPEED

Sunday, May 22nd - Nationwide Series - 
John Deere Dealers 250 presented by Pioneer at Iowa - 1:30pm on ABC 

Monday, May 23rd - NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - 8pm on SPEED
Thursday, May 26th - NASCAR Sprint Cup Qualifying - 7pm on SPEED

Friday, May 27th - Trackside at Charlotte - 7pm on SPEED

Saturday, May 28th - Nationwide Series - 
Top Gear 300 at Charlotte - 2:30pm on ABC

Sunday, May 29th - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series - Coca-Cola 600 - 5:30pm on FOX

**All times are EST**


Your vote counts this year, so take a minute and vote for Junebug!!

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 posted.

FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks

Dale Jr had a strong day, never going lower than 15th all day. He battled the strange conditions on the racetrack, starting 3rd due to qualifying being cancelled and finished 12th. He remains 4th in points.

REMINDER TO VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!!!! Junebug now needs our votes more than ever to make the All-Star Race!!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

'Unique' Earnhardt remains focused on positives

By Joe Menzer

As if there wasn't already ample evidence piling up that this year may very well be different for Dale Earnhardt Jr., there was last Saturday's Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Oh, part of what transpired was a rerun of similar Earnhardt implosions in recent years. But what happened in the immediate aftermath of a costly Earnhardt mistake getting onto pit road late in the race was different indeed.

After running over the cone that signified the entrance to pit road, Earnhardt knew what was coming next. He said he fully expected and understood NASCAR's pass-through penalty, which put him a lap down with only 38 laps remaining in the scheduled 367-lap race (which ended up going 370 because of a green-white-checkered finish).

"I knew when I touched the cone that you're not supposed to touch the cone. I knew what was getting ready to happen to me," Earnhardt said. "I was upset about it -- because we had worked so hard to get to where we were. I hated to give it up."

He also hated what he had just done to his No. 88 team. After staring a possible top-five finish down, he eventually had to settle for 14th.

So Earnhardt told his team on the radio that he wanted to meet with them immediately after the race, to accept full responsibility for the error before they all headed to Dover for this weekend's next Sprint Cup race.

"I thought it was a good thing to do, especially immediately after the event like that, to clear the air," Earnhardt said. "That way, nobody goes home wondering what everyone else is thinking. They know how I feel and I know how they feel. It was just a good way to put it behind us as quick as we could.

"One good thing we have going for us right now is that we do have good speed, and we're finding more and more speed each and every week. We're running competitively. We've been a top-10 race car at every race we've showed up to. I'm really, really proud of that and I want to keep that momentum going. So the sooner we can put the mistake that I made Saturday behind us, the better."

It was an act of maturity that did not go unnoticed by his boss at Hendrick Motorsports, team owner Rick Hendrick.

"He appreciates what he's got, and he loves the team. He thought [crew chief] Stevie [Letarte] didn't make the right call at Richmond, and it cost 'em eight or nine spots -- and he said something about it. So [at Darlington] it was just him saying, 'If I make a mistake, I'm going to raise my hand.' I think it was a smart thing to do," Hendrick said.

Earnhardt said Letarte and the rest of the team was receptive to his apology.

"[They told me] not to worry about it, that they were fine, that they feel the same way I do -- that they feel focused and excited and energized," Earnhardt said. "We hold team meetings every day in the hauler and before the race, and Steve does all the talking and I really don't talk that much. So I felt like it was important that I needed to be vocal right there, right then when I made that mistake. I just wanted to tell the guys that my focus was strong ... that I was just trying to get a little bit too much, and that I will try to minimize my mistakes moving forward. I told them to just keep loading up great race cars and taking them to the race track, and we'll be fine."

Hendrick said he is pleased with how Earnhardt's team has performed this season, the first in which the driver has been paired with Letarte. Heading into Dover, Earnhardt sits fourth in the point standings despite having not won a race since June of 2008 at Michigan -- 104 races ago.

"He loves that team," Hendrick said. "You go in the garage now, and he's in that hauler. All of the drivers stay in their buses these days. You walk through the garage any more and you don't see the drivers until it's time to practice. Well, he's in the hauler with the guys -- and he's talking about the car. He's giving input on what he thinks the car needs.

"It's just that chemistry. Stevie will not let you be down when you're around him. He's just perfect for Dale, and they like each other. And Dale, I think, has confidence that he has a team behind him that believes in him. The chemistry is there, and he's got something he wants to prove. So I'm really excited for him -- and he's the happiest I've ever seen him. He's happy and he's motivated right now."

He also obviously wanted to make it clear to his teammates that one bad mistake at Darlington is not going to change that. Hendrick said he took that as a positive. While the No. 88 team hasn't had the results he or Earnhardt envisioned when Earnhardt first signed on with Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2008 season, Hendrick said he thinks he sees them coming.

"I think with Dale, it takes time. He's got to do it on his timetable," Hendrick said. "He's a unique guy -- but he cares more about people than most people realize. He cares about what the other drivers think about him, and the fans, and his crew."

Earnhardt helps debut Charlotte's record screen

CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the world's largest high definition television for a spin Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway by taking virtual laps around the legendary 1.5-mile track using an iRacing simulation.

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of CMS, invited Earnhardt Jr., an avid video gamer, to show off his skills on the giant HDTV.

For its operational debut, Smith and Earnhardt Jr. used an oversized remote to power on the 200 foot-wide, 80 foot-tall HDTV, created by Panasonic, to reveal a highlight video of past racing action at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Charlotte sets the standard for the rest of the tracks," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They always do things first and do things the biggest and look, here we are today with another first from them. Charlotte holds a special place in a lot of drivers' hearts, mine included, and the big TV makes this place even more special.

"The Coca-Cola 600 is one of the best events we have all year long. Now fans can get a ticket to the race and have the experience of the live event with the comfort of their own TV at home with this big TV. This place just keeps getting better."

"This giant Panasonic HDTV will be a game changer for our fans on race day," Smith said. "It will give them a whole new way to experience a NASCAR event at Charlotte Motor Speedway."

The event signaled the completion of the Panasonic HDTV project, which took up to 57 workers a day, working more than 11,000 man hours, more than four months to construct. The 332-and-a-half-ton structure is the largest HDTV in the world. The 158 panels that make up the face of the television's screen will be illuminated by nine million LED lamps during select events at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sam Bass, the official artist of Charlotte Motor Speedway, was also on hand to unveil the souvenir race program covers for the 27th running of the Sprint All-Star Race and 52nd running of the Coca-Cola 600 on the gigantic screen.

The public debut of the world's largest HDTV will take place May 21 under the lights during the All-Star Race. The screen is centered along the backstretch between Turns 2 and 3, across from the start/finish line. Fans seated throughout the frontstretch from Turn 4 to Turn 1 will have clear viewing angles of instant replays, leaderboard updates and interactive entertainment displayed in clear 720p high-definition visuals.

Frontstretch tickets with the best views of the world's largest HDTV start at just $49 for the All-Star Race. Fans can also purchase two frontstretch tickets for just $99 to the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29.

Tickets for all May races at Charlotte Motor Speedway can be purchased online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling the ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Feels Bad For Darlington Pit Road Mistake, Calls Team Meeting

Following a pit-road commitment line violation that doomed his chances of a top-10 finish at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. called a team meeting to apologize to his crew for his 14th-place finish.

"It sucks pretty bad," said Earnhardt Jr., who was running sixth at the time he attempted to pit. "We had good speed and we worked really hard to get into the top 10. We made a mistake on pit road last week, and this week the driver screwed it up. That's just the way it goes."

Earnhardt Jr. was heading to pit road for the final stop when he came in too hot and knocked the pit road commitment cone onto the track.

Since he wasn't all the way inside the cone, he had to serve a painful pass-through penalty under the green flag. He fell one lap down and dropped to 21st as a result.

Later, he got the free pass and was able to rally for a few spots, but he was still disappointed.

"I'm going to talk to the guys and see if I can't apologize to 'em and tell 'em how much I appreciate the car," he said. "I won't beat myself up too bad, I guess."

Earnhardt Jr. said the car had speed, but was "so, soooo hard to drive, man."

"We maintained track position just by being as good as the guys around us," he said. "I don't know what we're missing...but we just lacked a little bit.

"We would have finished solidly inside the top 10, and I gave up about eight spots today making my mistake. I'll try not to make it again when we come back."

Earnhardt Jr. remained fourth in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, 47 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Showtime Southern 500

Junior had a mostly loose car all night, but was able to run in the top 10-15 for the majority of the race. While trying to slow down coming onto pit road, he hit the commitment cone and had to come back for a pass through penalty. He got back on the lead lap after a caution and getting the lucky dog. He finished in 14th and remains 4th in points. Next week all three series will be racing at the Monster Mile in Dover, DE