Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. eager to end winless streak at site of near-miss

It has been nearly four years since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a Sprint Cup race, but fans still flock to the NASCAR star.

Associated Press

It has been nearly four years since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a Sprint Cup race, but fans still flock to the NASCAR star.

CONCORD, N.C. — At first Dale Earnhardt Jr. was relieved he didn't fall further back than seventh at last year's Coca-Cola 600. Then he realized what he had lost for just about a gallon of gas.

"After a while, you start thinking about, 'Oh, yeah, we really came close to winning a race,' " Earnhardt said as he prepared for tonight's 600. "It was really unfortunate there wasn't just a little bit more gas in the car."

If there were, Earnhardt wouldn't have faced an additional year's worth of questions about why he hasn't won a Sprint Cup race since 2008 at Michigan. The drought has grown to 140 races and is a focal point at every appearance by Earnhardt.

"I've said it all year long," he says, "that I think we're a little bit better than we were last year."

It looked like Earnhardt was the best at Charlotte Motor Speedway a year ago when he broke free on a late restart to take the lead. He got the white flag, then ran out of gas on the front straight and coasted through the final turn before Kevin Harvick passed him for the win.

Harvick said afterwards he "felt so stinking bad" for Earnhardt because he knew how much the Hendrick Motorsports driver wanted to win. The fans roared when Earnhardt, voted the sport's most popular driver the past nine years, moved in front and were equally stunned when his tank ran dry.

Earnhardt was grateful to hang on to seventh as he thought about points. Then the disappointment swept over him.

"I was really unfortunate there wasn't just a little bit more gas in the car or whatever to get us to Victory Lane because that would've been a great way to cap off a pretty good weekend," Earnhardt said. "So it was a bit frustrating over time."

Martin Truex, who hasn't won a Sprint Cup race since 2007, finished 26th in last year's race and understood what his fellow driver was going through. It takes so much, Truex said, to get into position that to have it snatched away so close to the finish is maddening.

"Coming off Turn 4 and running out of gas is about the absolute worst way to lose a race," Truex said. "I definitely felt for him there."

Earnhardt, who starts 12th in Sprint Cup's longest race, feels he's in a strong position to contend again. Teammate Jeff Gordon has seen good things building with the No. 88 team.

A year ago, Earnhardt came close to winning because of fuel mileage strategy, Gordon said. This time, Earnhardt's got one of the fastest, most consistent cars in the garage and is capable of outrunning anyone.

"All that builds confidence," Gordon said. "And it just makes your team that much stronger and allows you to go to the next race with a shot at winning."

Meanwhile, Earnhardt tries not to think too much about his late-race flameout at Charlotte last year.

Earnhardt expects his team to make the right calls and get himself up front when it matters most and "we hopefully have enough fuel to get to the finish line," he said.

>>fast facts

Sprint Cup points

Through 11 of 36 races. The top 10 drivers plus two wild cards (based on wins) after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Greg Biffle 411—

Matt Kenseth 409 2

D. Earnhardt Jr. 397 14

Denny Hamlin 394 17

Jimmie Johnson 372 39

Martin Truex 372 39

Tony Stewart 369 42

Kevin Harvick 361 50

Kyle Busch 349 62

Carl Edwards 337 74

Dale Earnhardt Jr. eager to end winless streak at site of near-miss 05/26/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 9:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays vs. Orioles, seeking to halt a skid

    Blogs

    After being swept by the Rangers, and losing four straight, the Rays are looking to get back on track tonight against the Orioles, and they have LHP Blake Snell on the mound.

     Blake Snell will be on the mound tonight.
  2. Ever since the Bucs made Gerald McCoy the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he has struggled to overcome the shadow cast by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
  3. HomeTeam 100: Players 41-50

    Footballpreps

    Bulldog QB Charles Harrison III, (12) during the fourth quarter of the Zephyrhills at Nature Coast High School football game on Friday, 11/11/16.
  4. Lake Tarpon bass tournament still going strong after nearly 40 years (w/video)

    Outdoors

    Matt Smith, left, and Gary Muchler, work to bring a large mouth bass into Smith's bass boat with only minutes to spare while fishing off Dolly Bay in Lake Tarpon during the Lake Tarpon Tuesday Night Bass Fishing Tournament on Tuesday (7/18/17). The fish sealed second place for the duo.
  5. Rays series preview: Who are the Orioles?

    Blogs

    After the Rangers swept them over the weekend, the Rays won't have much time to rest, with 14 games scheduled for the next 14 days. The second half of their homestand begins tonight against the Orioles. Here's the information you need to know about Baltimore before the action kicks off.

    Starter Wade Miley has melted down after a hot start.