Earnhardt Jr. Rides Momentum into RIR

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I used to race at Myrtle Beach, which is real similar to Richmond." (Photo: Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rides a wave of momentum into Richmond International Raceway and will be looking for his fourth consecutive top 10 of the season in Saturday night's Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Earnhardt has three career wins at the .75-mile track and came very close to a fourth when he and Kyle Busch tangled battling for the lead in the closing laps of the 2008 spring race.

That past success along with the excellent start to this season has many predicting Earnhardt will break his now 101-race winless streak in Saturday night’s ninth race of the Sprint Cup Series season.

Earnhardt compares Richmond to Myrtle Beach Speedway, a track where he cut his teeth as a late model racer and competed in the Nationwide Series when he was a regular in NASCAR’s number two division.

"I used to race at Myrtle Beach, which is real similar to Richmond,” Earnhardt said. “The line there and the track are kind of similar. It reminds me a lot of Myrtle Beach, so I was pretty comfortable as soon as I got there, as soon as I started running laps there.”

The key for running well at Richmond is similar to what used to work when Earnhardt was a regular at the South Carolina short track.

“The last couple times I’ve been there we’ve struggled turning in the middle,” Earnhardt said. “The car has to turn and cut in the center of the corner and have good drive off, especially in Turn 4. You can spin your tires real bad coming off of four if you aren’t careful.”

Earnhardt comes into Saturday’s race third in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, the highest he’s been in 89 races.

Crew chief Steve Letarte credits his entire Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 team for pulling together and helping Earnhardt off to the impressive start to the year.

But he knows Richmond will present a challenge to keep the momentum alive particularly with the compact weekend schedule, which makes practice time crucial.

“The funny thing about Richmond is that you race under the lights, and that is the only time you’ll be on the track under the lights,” Letarte said. “It’s difficult. You practice in the middle of the day on Friday.

“The track couldn’t be any more different. That track schedule has been consistent for years so our notebook is very thick. If you run a setup in the middle of the day on Friday, you had better make some changes for Saturday night. We have a pretty good confidence on what we have to do, and they seem to work good.”

One thing Letarte won’t have to worry about is getting pumped up for the weekend and competing under the lights at one of his favorite venues on the circuit.

“I grew up in the northeast, and Richmond is the kind of short track like I grew up racing on,” said Letarte. “It’s two-groove racing. It’s just a blast. It’s a two-day show. You show up Friday and get it all knocked out and come back Saturday and race under the lights. It’s one of the few tracks that gives you goose bumps. It is a blast.”

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