Earnhardt Looking for Storybook Ending

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I'm here to race. I understand the situation." (Photo: Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. has his sights set on a second Daytona 500 victory, which would be a story book ending to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his father’s death in 2001.

Earnhardt understands the significance of Sunday’s race but has tried to put only his performance on the race track as the main focus of Speedweeks.

“Yeah, I wouldn't embrace that,” Earnhardt said of the possibility he could win Sunday’s race. “I'm here to race. I understand the situation. I'm looking forward to seeing how my father's remembered and honored throughout the week. I'll enjoy that. I don't really get into the hypothetical, fairytale sort of stuff.

“I just want to focus on my job, what I need to do every single corner, every single lap, what's best for me at this moment, what gets me closer to Victory Lane on Sunday. That's all I'm going to concern myself with.”

Earnhardt had the best starting spot for that goal when he won the pole for the 500 in last week’s qualifying session. But a crash during practice this week will forced Junior to a back-up car and a rear of the field starting position.

But Earnhardt is still confident he has a potent car and with the long race ahead of him as well as the new drafting style that has dominated Speedweeks he can get back to the front of the field.

But Earnhardt isn’t exactly sure how the drafting plan will play out for 500 miles on Sunday.

“I don't really know, man. I mean, it's tough to say,” he said. “The racetrack is only as wide as it is. We'll try to fill it full of racecars, no matter what the situation is. We'll be three-wide as often as we possible can. If there's a good run, there's a hole big enough for the car to go in, we'll put it in there.”

Another issue Earnhardt sees having an impact over the course of Sunday’s long race is visibility and the ability to be able to see when two cars are hooked up in the tight drafting tandem.

“When I'm behind somebody, I can't see anything,” Earnhardt said. “I rely entirely on my spotter at that point. When I'm pushing another car and we're catching another group of cars, he has to tell me when we've caught them or how far ahead of the guy I'm pushing they are. I don't want to drive the guy I'm pushing into the back of them. I need to know when he catches them he might move over so I don't spin him out so I can move as well. 'Cause you can't see at all.”

And yet another challenge for Earnhardt is working a full 500 mile race with new crew chief Steve Letarte. Although the two have only been together for a relatively short period since the end of last season, Letarte is confident the chemistry and communication is solid.

“Professionally I think it's great because we come into it with a huge amount of mutual respect,” Letarte said. “I think that's where it all starts. He has a lot of confidence in my ability to crew chief. While I'm short on success compared to other crew chiefs in the garage, I have been able to win a few races with Jeff (Gordon), I feel confident in my ability on top of the pit box.

“I have all the confidence in the world in his driving ability. I feel there are tracks that I lack confidence we need to go to that he can pick me up, and there are tracks that he thinks he maybe needs to run better and maybe I can help him out.”

Earnhardt is comfortable with his new crew chief and does not expect anything but good things happening Sunday and throughout the season.

“I've known Steve for a while,” said Earnhardt. “I've enjoyed getting to know him better working at HMS over the last couple years, have a lot of respect for him as a crew chief. I've seen him make some awesome calls and do a lot of great things.

“I really didn't know him well as I do now today. But everything I've learned I've enjoyed. I really enjoy the way the team approaches their jobs and what their goals are. I sort of like the way they go about business, how they conduct themselves. I'm enjoying everything I'm seeing. It's going really well.”

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