Earnhardt Jr. A Road Worrier

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OK, so road courses aren’t exactly Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s favorite venues, and his performance on them so far at NASCAR’s highest level isn’t anything to write home about.

But there are two of them the Winston Cup Series visits each year, and Earnhardt Jr. knows if he’s ever going to challenge for a championship, he needs to get better results at both Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

In five previous Winston Cup road course races, Earnhardt Jr.’s best finish is 12th, that coming in his rookie season in 2000, at Watkins Glen. He’s finished 24th, 19th and 30th at Infineon Raceway, and he also finished 40th last year at Watkins Glen.

Earnhardt Jr. is hoping for much better results this weekend at the 2.45-mile road course in the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen (1 p.m. ET Sunday).

“I’ve been known to be less than thrilled when it comes to road course events,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “ But I’ve learned that I have a lot more fun if I just go out there and drive my butt off on every lap instead of worrying about the track.

“We were pretty good at Sears Point (Infineon Raceway) until the crash (in June), so I feel better about the way the car should drive this weekend. Who knows, maybe we’ll surprise some people like we did in ’99.”

Earnhardt Jr. won the Busch Series race at WGI with a last-lap pass, so finishing in the middle to the back of the pack on a road course isn’t a given for him.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. never won at Watkins Glen during his storied career, but he did win three poles there and two top-five finishes (in 1986 and 1989).

There are teams – such as Jeff Gordon’s, Mark Martin’s and Tony Stewart’s – that have become prolific on the two road courses. The majority of Winston Cup teams, however, don’t put much stock in the road course races.

The No. 8 Budweiser team will come to Watkins Glen this weekend a bit more prepared than in the past. It recently visited Virginia International Raceway – a venue that has begun to become more and more popular for Winston Cup teams to test – to help them get a better feel for road courses

“We did a test this summer at the track in Virginia, and I think it helped my frame of mind and helped the team learn about set-ups for the road courses,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’ve always said Watkins Glen is a less “technical” track (than Infineon), because you can haul down the long straights and then set-up for some of the turns like an oval.”

Earnhardt Jr.'s team will also be able to lean on teammate Steve Park's team for advice. Park earned his first career Winston Cup victory at Watkins Glen, in 2000.

Although he wouldn’t have wanted to pick a road course in which to do it, Earnhardt Jr. is hoping to snap a skid in which he has finished outside of the Top 10 in the last three Winston Cup events. His last Top 10 came at Chicagoland Speedway nearly a month ago, when he finished 10th.

Qualifying for the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen is set for 3:05 p.m. Friday afternoon. Earnhardt Jr.’s best starting spot at Watkins Glen was 14th, in 2000.

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