Winning Only Thing On Earnhardt's Mind

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wouldn't mind it if history repeated itself Saturday night at Daytona. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would like nothing better than to end his more than three year Sprint Cup Series winless streak on the 10th anniversary of his emotional Coke Zero 400 victory on Saturday night.

Earnhardt scored one of NASCAR’s most dramatic wins in the 2001 edition of the traditional mid-summer event at Daytona, coming just four months after his father’s tragic death in that February’s Daytona 500.

But he rolls into Saturday night’s race in the middle of a very competitive season and trying not to think about any kind of anniversary but rather simply getting to victory lane.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Earnhardt said. “I guess that’s cool. I sure wished that was the first year anniversary of when we won here. That would be better.”

Despite trying to downplay any pressure, Earnhardt does have fond memories of that Fourth of July weekend win.

“It was one of my favorite wins,” he said. “Of course it was at that moment, I was in a really good place emotionally and personally. It had been a tough year and had been tough on a lot of people around me, a lot of my family and a lot of my close friends. A lot of my Father’s close friends.

“It was a very difficult time and I didn’t daydream early. I didn’t daydream about coming in and winning that race. I just wanted to come here and race. I just wanted to race; do my job and go to the next race. I didn’t ever see what happened coming.”

Earnhardt is hoping another win is coming soon. He still hasn’t won since Michigan back in June of 2008 but has been impressive in his first season working with crew chief Steve Letarte.

The team has stayed near the front of the Sprint Cup Series points standings most of the season and Letarte is pleased at the way things have gone in the first half of the year.

“I think so far so good,” said Letarte. “I think we’ve done some things better than expected, some things we’ve fallen a little bit short. We definitely set some lofty goals but you know at the beginning of the year we wanted to come into these races and be relevant again, be a team that somebody talked about on a Saturday after practice. Not somebody that was just on a charge but somebody who had some speed, had some competitors have some concern. I think we’ve done that on a few tracks, we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to win on a few tracks, a few with a speed and a few with fuel.”

For Earnhardt to win Saturday night he’ll also have to conquer the two-car drafting phenomenon that was so prevalent during Speedweeks in February.

While not a fan of it, Earnhardt understands the circumstances that have led to the new style of racing and how important it is in determining who is successful.

But it’s still foreign to the driver many consider one of the best-ever in the old pack-style drafting.

“I’d rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self,” Earnhardt said. “It’s really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way and to think like you think. You take care of somebody and you feel this obligation to take care of them and then worry about having them take care of you and how that makes them feel.”

Earnhardt says it’s been a strange learning process for him and looks forward to the day when the giant packs of cars drafting at restrictor plate tracks returns.

“Been growing up all these years racin’ for number one-lookin’ out for number one. Doing my job,” he said. “This is what I need to do. I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives and now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that.

“It is just different and weird. It won’t be like that forever I assume and hopefully I am alive and still racin’ when it goes back to the way it was because I just really enjoy lookin’ out for number one, man.”

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