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NASCAR: Even without win, Earnhardt feels confident

BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH

RICHMOND—Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak stretched to 138 races when he failed to win the Capital City 400 on Saturday night.

But as Earnhardt sat in the media center after the race and listened to Tony Stewart chastise a reporter, he did all he could to hold back a smile.

This was partly because he was entertained by Stewart’s antics, and partly because—despite this winless streak—Earnhardt is quietly in the midst of one of his best seasons in years.

He placed second to Kyle Busch at Richmond International Raceway, and that result vaulted him to second place in the point standings, just five points behind Sprint Cup leader Greg Biffle.

“The team is confident,” Earnhardt said. “We’re feeling good. We feel like we’re competing well, really close to winning a race.”

Through nine races this season, Earnhardt has registered four top-three finishes, and he has yet to finish outside the top 15.

His strong showing at RIR was especially encouraging, considering he placed 16th and 19th there last season.

Sure, Earnhardt would love to end his winless drought. But on Saturday, he actually felt fortunate to place second.

With 15 laps left, Stewart seemed ready to coast to an easy win, and Earnhardt was scrapping to place in the top five.

But on Lap 386, a caution flag was waved because of débris on the track. Stewart was frustrated by the decision. He said the flag was waved for a plastic bottle that had been sitting on the track for the previous eight laps.

Nevertheless, it brought the field together for another restart. Busch seized command, and Earnhardt ultimately slid into second.

He said he had little chance to overtake Busch because he was having braking problems, so he was pleased to hang on.

Earnhardt said his No. 88 Chevrolet could have been even more powerful, but he said he made the mistake of bringing a master cylinder from the recent Martinsville race to Richmond.

He said cars go too fast into the corners at RIR, so that master cylinder is not ideal there.

“I learned a lesson, and we’ll have an idea what to use when we come back here,” Earnhardt said.

He will be back in the fall, when RIR hosts the final race before the Chase for the Championship begins, and if form holds, his spot will be secured long before then.

Earnhardt created a bit of a stir last week when he said he considered himself the best driver at Hendrick Motorsports. Of course, that powerful stable includes five-time Cup winner Jimmie Johnson and four-time winner Jeff Gordon.

But Earnhardt said there was no other way to answer the question.

“I learned a long time ago that if you don’t have confidence in your car, that can be problematic for you,” he said. “If you don’t have confidence in your crew chief, that can be problematic for you. And if you don’t have the same confidence in yourself, that’s not conducive to being successful.”

The season remains quite young, and plenty will be sorted out between now and next fall, but for now, Earnhardt is backing up his assertions with results.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/sports/2012/04/29/nascar-even-without-win-earnhardt-feels-confident/