Earnhardt Jr. Optimistic for 2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We can be one of those teams that are sitting there in Homestead with a shot at it. I really believe that.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has great expectations for the coming Sprint Cup Series season.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver feels confident about the No. 88 team’s chances to be competitive in 2013 and plans to be back in the Chase to run for a championship.

Even though Earnhardt’s run for a title last year was derailed by a slow performance in the playoff portion of the season and ultimately being sidelined for two races because of a concussion, he thinks there were enough positives in 2012 to build on.

“For some reason last year we were really strong in the summer time,” said Earnhardt during Friday’s Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona. “It was a disappointment not to finish as well as we had hoped in the Chase and really go for the championship. We felt like we were a strong enough team at certain parts of the year to definitely do that. We definitely have some unfinished business.”

After being forced out of his ride to recover from the concussion suffered in October at Talladega, Earnhardt was glad to have a chance to finish out last season behind the wheel.

“It was good to get in the car at the end of the year and be able to run a couple of races and get that out of the way, get any kind of doubts or questions that you personally had about yourself or your recovery out of the way,” Earnhardt said.

“I felt like all that went really good the last several weeks. … I feel really good down here. The off time has been great, but I feel good, ready to go. I’m glad I did it the way I did. It gave me a good opportunity to get better faster and come back right and come back sharp.”

So forget dwelling on any of the negatives that took place during the campaign. Earnhardt is solely focused on what lies ahead.

“I really don’t look back that much,” Earnhardt. “I only look back on the positives when I think about last year.

“To find motivation and excitement, I look back on how well we performed throughout the year.”

He’s made the Chase the last two seasons with crew chief Steve Letarte calling the shots. Although he hasn’t been able to mount a championship charge, Earnhardt is still confident the window of opportunity to finally win a Sprint Cup crown has not closed.

“We have an opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “Our time is now. We have a chance if we can just find some more pieces and keep improving. We have steadily gotten better over the last couple of years.

“We can be one of those teams that are sitting there in Homestead with a shot at it. I really believe that.”

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