Confidence High for Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt sits on top of the Sprint Cup Series standings after five races of the 2013 campaign and brings a 12-point lead over defending series champion Brad Keselowski into Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is riding high in both the point standings and the confidence department heading to Martinsville Speedway this weekend.

Earnhardt sits on top of the Sprint Cup Series standings after five races of the 2013 campaign and brings a 12-point lead over defending series champion Brad Keselowski into Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500.

It marks the second straight season Earnhardt has found his way to the lead of the series standings and he gives much of the credit for his success to crew chief Steve Letarte.

“I think Steve -- if you look at some of the statistics that we've done really well at, that's closing races out and passing a lot of cars in the last 20 or 10 percent of the race,” Earnhardt explained. “Two races really come to mind, and that's Bristol and California, with just a handful of laps to go, we're not in the top 10 in either one of those races, and Steve made some pit calls in the last 25 percent of those races that set us up to be able to make up a lot of ground at the end if everything went according to plan.

“I don't really know if that was his plan, but he surely makes it look good.”

Earnhardt has looked good since the season started at Daytona. He’s been one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit as evident by his position in the standings. But maybe even more important is Earnhardt’s confidence level that he has the resources and support behind him to succeed.

“We've ran good, we've had good cars, good speed,” he said. “We were a little bit off, some of the guys out there that are running in the top three, top five every week, I think we're a better team than we were last year but still -- I just feel like that we need to be winning races, we need to be running up in the top to, three all day long, we need to be just -- we just need to run a little bit better.

“There's just a little bit there for us to gain until I feel super comfortable and feel, I guess, like our statistics and our points position really reflect on our performance.”

He’ll look to continue that solid performance Sunday at Martinsville, where Earnhardt enjoys racing as much a being able to get a NASCAR history lesson.

“I love racetracks like that,” said Earnhardt. “Every track has something about it that you like or something characteristic about it that you enjoy. But Martinsville is just a fun place, really fun track to race on.

“I think the fans get a great event. They get a great show when we're there. I think it's a good ticket between it and Bristol and Richmond. It's some of the best short track racing in the country that you can see. I feel like it's always a lot of fun.”

For Earnhardt to really have a fun afternoon in Virginia he’ll have to survive the 500-lap grind around the .526-mile track, which presents one of the toughest challenges of the season.

But for Earnhardt it’s all about getting into a rhythm at the tight track and working around traffic that he says will then translate into a successful afternoon in the Commonwealth.

“You've got to be flexible and open-minded to where your car wants to be and where it wants to run, but when you do find what works, you've got to be able to repeat it over and over without getting too greedy about getting into the corner faster or trying to get into the throttle sooner, doing things like that,” said Earnhardt.

Although it’s still early in the long grind that is the NASCAR season, Earnhardt likes where he is as a driver as well as what his race team has been able to accomplish. He sees no reason why anything will change.

So I've got good confidence in the team that we're going to be able to gain what I think we need to gain to be able to compete once the Chase comes around, and hopefully we'll have that opportunity to be in the Chase at that point,” said Earnhardt.

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