Earnhardt Jr. Rides High into Coca-Cola 600

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start 11th in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is feeling positive about his chances to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after his Sprint All-Star Race performance last weekend.

Earnhardt won both the Sprint Showdown, as well as one of the All-Star Race 20-lap segments last Saturday night, and believes that success will continue in Sunday night’s 600-mile grind.

“I think we’re confident,” Earnhardt said. “We’re bringing back the same car so we know what kind of racecar we’ve got. We know what kind of potential we’ve got, I guess, and we’re all kind of expecting to improve on some of the things we did last week. We had some things that we learned and we think that we improve on that and even be better than we were last week.”

Bringing back the same car from the All-Star Race, rather than a different mount, was a bit of a surprise around the garage area. But Earnhardt says he has complete faith that crew chief Steve Letarte is making the right call and will fine-tune the No. 88 Chevrolet to be ready for the 600.

“So, that’s Steve’s job and his group’s job to get together and try to squeeze a little more speed out of the car and I’ll just try to have to communicate the best I can to give them information,” Earnhardt said. “But I don’t need to get complacent with how we ran last week. We need to try to work harder to go better and go faster.”

Earnhardt came within a straightaway of winning last year’s Coca-Cola 600 only to run out of fuel in sight of the checkered flag, opening the door for Kevin Harvick to take the win.

That bitter disappointment has Earnhardt and company feeling like they need to take care of some unfinished business in the 2012 edition of the race.

“I think so,” Earnhardt said. “You definitely feel like one got away; or when you come close to winning a race like that, you definitely think about what you might have could have done different; or, if only this or if only that. You don’t think about that too much. You can get distracted and not really be thinking about what you’re trying to do that moment.

“If the car is good enough and we’re good enough and do everything we need to do, we’ll be right there with an opportunity to win a race and that’s what you have to concentrate on.”

Earnhardt, who will start 11th in Sunday’s race, says not only would a trip to Victory Lane Sunday help ease the pain of last year’s frustration, but it would be a sweet way to celebrate the holiday weekend at what he considers his home track.

“Yeah, it would be awesome to win at Charlotte and give me a trophy from here being that it’s close to the house,” he said. “It was tough to come so close last year and not win the race. My initial reaction was that I was happy that we actually rolled across the finish lane in seventh or where I think we finished. I was really relieved that it wasn’t worse than that. And then after a while you start thinking about 'Oh yeah, we really came close to winning a race.'

“It was really unfortunate there wasn’t just a little bit more gas in the car or whatever to get us to Victory Lane because that would have been a great way to cap-off a pretty good weekend. So it was a bit frustrating over time. But we ran good ... I feel like, I’ve said it all year long, that I think we’re a little bit better team than we were last year.”

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