Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘happy’ with his car heading into last ride at Dover
By Kyle McFadden
October 1, 2017
DOVER, Del.–For the past two days, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has raved about his ride for Sunday’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil at Dover, expressing a level of enthusiasm that we haven’t seen a whole lot this year.
At this juncture, sitting 22nd in the point standings in his final full-time season at the Cup level and winless in his last 48 races, the 14-time most popular driver just wants to experience the sweet taste of victory and euphoric adrenaline buzz in the winner’s circle one more time before it’s all said and done.
Earnhardt, who starts seventh on Sunday, has a legitimate chance at finding victory lane based off the consistent speed he’s showed in three practice runs.
It’s a pleasant surprise, considering Earnhardt mentioned he wasn’t looking forward to Dover on his weekly post-race Periscopes and the fact that he’s on pace for his second-worst statistical season in 18 years
“Heck yeah I’m happy,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com after he qualified seventh on Friday evening. “I didn’t know what to expect. Our car was real fast off the truck.
“We had some pretty good comfort in practice. So I was feeling pretty confident about it, but yet we’ve had the same thing happen week after week where we’ve been confident and not backed it up. But this car was really nice right off the track.
We ran some really good laps in the first run in practice and was right there with the 4 [Kevin Harvick], which I think he’ll be great.
Qualifying on Friday was a roller-coaster for Earnhardt, who placed 25th in round one and was the final driver to advance to the second round. In round two, Earnhardt flashed his vintage self when he clocked the second-fastest time. His seventh-place start is the highest among non-playoff drivers.
“We ran some good laps on our qualifying mock runs and actually ran the mock runs on our race tires so we saved another set for tomorrow and we’ll have more stickers for practice tomorrow, but it came at a cost,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com.
Earnhardt ran 12th in first practice on Friday, second in Saturday’s morning practice and 28th in final practice on Saturday. The main reason he tumbled down the leaderboard is because he had to serve a 30-minute penalty for failing New Hampshire pre-race tech twice and Dover pre-qualifying tech twice, the more rubber lathered on the racing surface, the slower laps become.
And, despite the penalty, Earnhardt strung together the 17th best 10-lap average. “Happy with them laps,” Earnhardt tweeted on Saturday afternoon.
“Thankfully our car is good and comfortable,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com. “If we were really struggling with speed and balance I’d be real upset because we need all the practice we can.”
Earnhardt finished 11th at Dover in the spring and has three top five’s and five top 10’s the past 10 races at the track.
On Friday at 3 p.m., Dover honored Earnhardt with a special trophy commemorating his inspiring win at the track in 2001, just 12 days after 9/11. That day, which will go down as one of the most patriotic and emotional days in the sport’s history, remains fresh in Earnhardt’s mind.
“It was emotional. It was heavy,” Earnhardt said in an interview with NBS earlier in the week and added on Friday saying, “that was a very special win for me personally.”
Who knows, maybe Earnhardt can revive some of that Dover magic from Sept. 2001, and coast into victory lane for what could potentially be the final triumph in his Cup career.
“I’m thankful the car is fast,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com. “I think we’ve got a chance at a real good run this weekend. I really do.”
Austin McFadden/The Racing Experts