Determination Driving Dale Jr

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As the laps wound down on Sunday, you had to get the feeling that Dale Earnhardt Junior was going to finish better than 5th place at the rain-shortened NAPA 500. The car seemed to turn remarkably well in the turns and Earnhardt’s crew was clicking off good pit stops. With the rain holding off and the event heading to full distance (325 laps), Junior seemed poised to capitalize. Then came the rains – again.

“It was great to pick up some points,” said Earnhardt who sported a “do-rag” to keep the rain off his head.

Last season, Earnhardt Junior was on a mission to be in the top 10 in points. His mission was to get on the stage at the Winston Cup banquet and say words about his father.

This season, EJ has made some strong moves in the last few races. A win, a pole and 3 top 5’s have moved the Budweiser driver to 11th in Cup standings- less than 50 points out of the coveted top 10.

As the final 3 races approach to bring a close to the long and grueling Cup season, Earnhardt’s determination is showing. Even with the concussion admission, Junior has turned a negative into a positive by putting his focus on the racing and the finishes speak volumes. Only Tony Stewart has gained more points than Earnhardt over the last few races and probably had a better car than winner Kurt Busch or Stewart.

“Atlanta is great, it’s no secret that the faster it is, the more I like it,” admitted Earnhardt. “We’ve always run really well here, but crazy stuff kind of cost us a couple of times when we should have won. The team is on such a roll right now”

The number 8 team has another statistic to crow about. They’ve earned more bonus points (for laps lead and most laps lead) than any other team and have led 19 of the 33 races and that’s more than any other team.

So after nearly 17 weeks straight without a break, how does anyone focus on the ‘next’ race? Add in some rather lengthy rain delays over the last few weeks and time spent at the track for the drivers and crews is well into overtime.

“[Another] top 10 is cool, says Earnhardt. “I think we have a realistic shot to keep that string going for the rest of the season, because no one has been better than this team in the past 2 months”

Watching this same race team during the summer races, one would not have gotten the idea that Junior was going to make a serious move towards the top 10 in point standings. Earnhardt, Jr. admits to the slump and much of it may have been caused by the well-publicized concussion. With that episode behind him, Junior may very well be able to match his 8th place finish in the standings from 2001.

This weekend, it’s off to the “Rock,” a tough old worn out racetrack in his home state of North Carolina. Earnhardt’s not had the best of success at Rockingham garnering only a 26th place finish at the spring event and a 15th place finish at this race one year ago.

Determination can take you many places. For Junior, he hopes it takes him into the top 10 and a spot on the stage in December.

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