Time Is Now For Junior

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It's only the fourth race of the season, but Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway has taken on some added importance for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

After starting the season with two straight DNFs and seeing a potential top five run thrown away last week in Las Vegas by a mental mistake, the pressure is starting to build for Earnhardt, Jr.

He comes into Atlanta mired in 28th place in the standings. But despite the slow start, Junior isn't showing any signs of panic.

"We used up two mulligans early, but nobody wearing a red Bud uniform was too worried because we had run pretty well before we had trouble," he said. "It's one thing if you blow up or crash while you're racing for 30th place, but it's another when you have a good car and run in the top-five before you have issues. No one panicked after those first two races."

"The media made a much bigger deal out of it than it really was. I understand it, but what are you gonna do? You can't go back for a do-over, so we buckled down and performed well at Las Vegas. With the team we have, we expect to be in the Chase every year. And a few rough weekends doesn't change that."

The good news for Earnhardt, Jr. is Atlanta has been a favorite of his over the years and he has the track record to prove it.

"We always look forward to Atlanta," he said. "It's bad-fast, fun to drive, and we seem to find ourselves near the front most of the time. We've been in the top-five in almost half of our races there. I think it's a combination of a lot of things: Tony Jr. and the guys always give me great cars, I love driving there, and we've won there."

With the first two "Car of Tomorrow" races looming at Bristol and Martinsville following Atlanta, a solid day on Sunday will help Earnhardt, Jr.'s team breathe a bit easier going into the COT unknowns.

"We've had three top-fives in a row at Atlanta and it'd be great to get a fourth so we can keep moving up in the points," he said. "We're pretty pleased to be back in the top-30, and we can move a lot higher at Atlanta. Lemme tell ya, no one looks forward to Bristol and have to worry about being in the top-35 in points."

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