Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoping to ‘have something to smile about’ before final season ends
By Tyler Head
August 6, 2017
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – While speaking in the media center ahead of what will likely be his final NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked what he remembered about his father’s pole win in 1996, which came despite the elder Earnhardt having a broken collar bone.
“He was hurt and in a lot of pain, but he must have had a really, really damn good race car that day,” Earnhardt. Jr. reflected. “He could drive them, but the car had to have been pretty incredible as well.”
A “damn good race car” is something that has eluded Earnhardt Jr. during his final full-time season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In the 21 races so far in 2017, Earnhardt has just one top-five finish and four top-10 finishes – none since Sonoma in June.
The problem, Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday, is the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team hasn’t gotten setups for the car right coming into race weekends, nor has it been able to build on prior success.
“Today has been a struggle,” Earnhardt said, referring to the morning’s practice session at The Glen. “We thought we had a great car at Sonoma coming in here. The car is not very good off the truck.”
That isn’t to say there’s no hope.
As Earnhardt Jr. pointed out, the team ran well at Sonoma. Prior to that, a fourth-place finish at Texas appeared to be a sign the No. 88 was on the right track.
“We got through Texas and I felt like that things are where they should be,” he said. “(But) we have lost a little bit along the way at a few stops. Just losing a little bit here and there. We haven’t really developed any speed through the season as we have progressed through the year.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver says he and his team know their situation; the No. 88 is 22nd in points, well behind the rest of the playoff field. The only way to make the playoffs and have a shot at a championship during Earnhardt’s final season is to win one of the next five races.
“One of these races we’re going to show up and we might have what we need and for us to be able to win that weekend, we need to be ready mentally,” Earnhardt said.
“We can’t drag our feet into the race track on Friday and expect to be on our game on Sunday. We have to go into every race like this is going to be the week that we get it done.”
If a win doesn’t come in time to make the playoffs, Earnhardt says the team will still give all it has to try to end the year, and his Cup driving career, on a high note.
“We’re going to work hard all the way to the very end,” Earnhardt said. “Hopefully we have something to smile about at some point before it’s over with.” IMAGES Tyler Head/The Racing Experts Kyle Stephens/The Racing Experts