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Earnhardt has a shot at tying the King

March 14th, 2014 7:09 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Earnhardt has a shot at tying the King

BRISTOL — The son of the Intimidator has an opportunity to join the King in the record books this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of only five drivers to start the NASCAR season with three straight top-two finishes. Another one of those efforts in Sunday’s Food City 500 and he would join Richard Petty as the only driver ever to start the season with four straight top-two finishes.

The chance to make history is something Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, relishes.

“Any time you do anything Richard has done or put yourself in conversation with him as far as statistics, it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment,” Earnhardt said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “To win as many races as he has, to run as many races as he has, he’s been such a fixture in the sport still today. That’s something else we can hang our hat on.

“We have a shot at it. We run really good here and I like coming here. Last time, we were running with the leaders and we chickened out on fuel strategy and pitted. With the way things are now, we can go for it and be aggressive. I would love to capitalize and get another win or another top two and join Richard. We will be going for it.” 

With the early success of the sport’s 11-time reigning most popular driver including a second Daytona 500 victory, television ratings are up this season. 

He’s finished runner-up each of the past two weeks at Phoenix and Las Vegas. However, the 39-year-old driver doesn’t believe it’s fair to say the success of the sport rests on his shoulders.

“It’s hard for me to keep the finger on the pulse and how much the needle is moving,” he said. “I can’t concern myself with how much I move the needle. That goes outside of what I need to concern myself with as an individual.

“I want the sport to be healthy and do things to help the sport, and try to impact the sport. You want to leave a mark of some kind in the sport because you care about it. But, there are so many personalities and new guys coming in. Something could happen this weekend between two other drivers which could reach more than what I can do.”

Earnhardt, who has 20 career wins including one in the 2004 Bristol night race, feels others like Jimmie Johnson, his teammate and a six-time champion, do as much to promote the sport as he does.

“There are guys like Jimmie who have accomplished much more than I have, and they do a lot to elevate the sport,” he said. “They do that things to carry the sport as well or better than I do. I just feel uncomfortable because I don’t have the accolades, the hardware and the championships a lot of these guys have. I’m comfortable with the popularity because we have a great fan base. Carrying the sport is a whole different conversation. All the drivers have a role in that.”

At the moment, Earnhardt is at the top of his profession. He currently holds a one-point lead over Brad Keselowski in the Sprint Cup standings.

There is nowhere he enjoys more than Bristol, even his favorite track as he was growing up.

“This is a fun race track. I love racing on the short tracks,” he said. “I love coming here. I’ve been coming here since I was real little. Even over Charlotte, this is the one place I didn’t want to miss.”

While luck has been on his side in the early going, Earnhardt said his team has to be better overall than last weekend. He was leading on the final lap before running out of fuel, but said performance will be a bigger factor than strategy at Bristol.

“This place isn’t going to give you anything,” Earnhardt said. “What you take out of this place, you’ve got to earn it.”

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