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WIN COULD BRING JUNIOR'S NEW TURN

Times wires

SONOMA, Calif. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows exactly where he stacks up on road courses.

"I don't really take them lightly, but I know that's not my forte," he said Friday. "That's not really where my bread is buttered."

The statistics speak for themselves: In 12 career starts at Sonoma, Earnhardt has never finished higher than 11th. At Watkins Glen, the only other road course on the Sprint Cup schedule, he has three top-10s - but none since 2005.

But he's running so well this season, Earnhardt believes he has a shot Sunday on the 10-turn, 1.99-mile scenic Sonoma course.

"We have had such a good season, and we come in here and we want to continue that," said Earnhardt, who will start 19th on Sunday.

Earnhardt ended his four-year losing streak last weekend at Michigan. He had been steadily working his way toward Victory Lane all year, the most consistent driver through the first 15 races. He leads the series with 12 top-10 finishes, and he's the only driver to complete every lap this season.

He's wary, though, of what the good results mean.

"I don't know really, momentum, whether it's real or not," he said. "...If you have a bad week, you've got to put it behind you and focus on what's been working. We've got a lot of confidence and we are feeling really good about what we have been doing, and this is the best I've felt in a really long time."

He appreciated the visits to Victory Lane from other drivers last weekend. Earnhardt is NASCAR's most popular driver, and the pressure grew during his 143-race winless streak. His rivals seemed genuinely happy that the streak was over.

"I think it was good for us to see him in Victory Lane, and for him to get out of that media category of talking about losing more than (the) people who are winning is good," Kevin Harvick said.

Earnhardt said Friday there were several touching moments in the days following the victory. He was told a story by his brother-in-law, L.W. Miller, about a friend's father who is too ill to recognize his sons but was aware of Junior's victory.

"All he was talking about was the race and us winning," Earnhardt said. "That really kind of brings it home and makes you realize how something like that affects a lot of people you know and makes a big difference in a lot of people's lives. Pretty amazing to hear a story like that."

SPRINT CUP QUALIFYING: Marcos Ambrose had never earned a Sprint Cup pole before last week. Now he has two in a row. Ambrose took the top starting spot for Sunday's road-course race at Sonoma, Calif., with a lap of 95.262 mph. He waited as Jeff Gordon, who owns a record nine Sprint Cup road wins, could beat him. Gordon was the last driver to qualify and just missed the pole at 95.067 mph; he'll start second.

INDYCAR: Dario Franchitti won the third of the first three qualifying heat races in series history to take the pole for tonight's Iowa Corn Indy 250. The starting grid was set by three 30-lap heat races seeded according to practice times. The eight fastest in the last practice competed in the final heat, which set the first four rows. The opening two heats determined the rest of the grid.

FAST FACTS

Sprint Cup

Toyota/Save Mart 350, 3 p.m. Sunday, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif.

TV: TNT

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