Dale Jr.: ‘We’ve just been getting the luck lately’
March 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
The numbers are like no other numbers Dale Earnhardt Jr. has produced in any NASCAR winter.
First at Daytona. Second at Phoenix. Second at Las Vegas. These impressive integers total two things – first place in Sprint Cup points for the sport’s most popular driver and the sort of momentum that money can’t buy.
But hold on, Earnhardt Jr. says. Don’t build too much into three weeks of top twos, despite the majestic glare from the scoreboard. Although he finished second last week at Las Vegas after running out of fuel on the final lap as his Hendrick Motorsports team made the ultimate Vegas gamble, his Chevrolet wasn’t particularly strong, Junior said.
“We were going to probably run fourth to eighth in that race if we stayed on the (fuel) strategy with everyone else,” Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “So we can’t get too carried away by, ‘Yeah, we were in the position to win,’ but we did that on a strategy that a lot of people weren’t willing to take. We’re not going to be able to do that every week. We’re not going to be able to turn an eighth- or fifth-place run into a second- or third- or first-place run every week.
“We’ve got to keep in perspective what happened last week. We weren’t by any means running with (race winner) Brad (Keselowski) and those guys up front and battling for the lead at any point in the day. So we definitely can look at that and be excited that we had a chance to win. But also we need to focus more on how we get better so we’re running up front regardless of the strategy we’re running and the fuel strategy we use.”
This is not necessarily the message Junior Nation wants to hear, but Earnhardt Jr. clearly is in the mode of enjoying the moment while not giving it too much juice. It’s a long season, and, while he already is virtually assured of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup because of the Daytona 500 victory, there are many miles to run and potential valleys to travel.
“Things happen sometimes for you and sometimes against you, and we’ve just been getting the luck here lately,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going. This place here isn’t going to hand you any favors or give you an inch. So you’re going to have to work hard. … Whatever you take out of here, you’re going to have to earn it.”
Earnhardt Jr.’s early-season outburst has NASCAR’s public-relations machinery churning and turning, but he continues to take the low road in discussions around the idea that his back might carry the sport.
“I’m comfortable with the popularity and things like that because I feel like that we do a lot and we have a great fan base and we do a lot to engage with them,” he said. “But carrying the sport is a whole other conversation, or being the face of the sport is a whole other conversation. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be put in. I don’t think it’s realistic. All the drivers have a role in that, and they are actively doing that.”
Earnhardt Jr. said the sport survives on what happens on the track each weekend.
“It definitely doesn’t live and breathe on everything that I’ve got going on,” he said. “It would be perfectly fine without me, but I’m glad to be a part of it.”