Earnhardt Looks to Relive History

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says that "maybe I haven't adapted as well to some of the (restrictor-plate) packages or maybe I'm just not making the right decisions.'' (Photo: Getty Images)

TALLADEGA, Ala. - For many, this is an annual pilgrimage. For others, this is their first time. Either way, they come displaying their support on their vehicles, shirts and bodies.

They come to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It is a race they watch but a reunion they feel. The name Earnhardt is as much a part of the fabric of Talladega Superspeedway as high speeds and spectacular crashes. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won here 10 times. His son has five victories. It’s more than winning. They resonate with those who camp outside the track, party through the weekend and celebrate the race on Sunday.

Yet, for all the success the Earnhardts have had, their last win at Talladega came in 2004 - a victory remembered as much for the penalty Dale Earnhardt Jr. incurred for using a profanity in a post-race TV interview. That’s also the last restrictor-plate points race won by an Earnhardt.

Go back and look. It doesn’t seem possible. Earnhardts are always good on plate tracks.

Fate or something else has not been with Earnhardt as much in recent years. He’s led only 28 laps in the seven restrictor-plate races since last year’s Daytona 500. He’s led only only 51 laps in the 11 restrictor-plate races since the 2011 Daytona 500.

Still, he has found his way toward the front in some races. He has five top-10 finishes in his last 10 restrictor-plate races, including runner-up finishes in the last two Daytona 500s.

Earnhardt acknowledges that he’s not performed as well in these races compared to earlier in his career.

“The package changes a lot and you’ve got to adapt,’’ he said. “Maybe I haven’t adapted as well to some of the packages or maybe I’m just not making the right decisions. You’ve got to make all the right decisions in the draft to put yourself in position to win. And I haven’t been doing that to win these races here, but my confidence and my determination has not changed a bit.

“I’m going to stay open minded ... and try to do a good job this weekend of putting the car where it needs to be and making better decisions that put me in position to have a shot at it. I just want to have a shot at it. You know we haven’t really even done that.

“Every time we have had these late restarts we have been in the back or outside the top 10 or just things haven’t gone the way we need them to go at the end of these races to have a shot and be up close to the front to make a move at the last few laps. That is the goal this weekend.”

Earnhardt has lost more positions than he’s gained in the last dozen or so laps in restrictor-plate races since last year’s Daytona 500. He admits sometimes that’s just making the wrong decision in the draft, but that won’t keep him from trying. 

“I think you can psych yourself out and you can definitely anticipate negative results and negative things happening so much that you almost guarantee that as your fate,’‘ Earnhardt said. “I think if you think positively ‘Man this is going to work, I’m going to make the right choices when things aren’t quite working right, I’m going to keep striving and pushing, I’m going to make this a good result, I’m going to get something out of this today,’ typically it works out.

“Typically that attitude is going to prevail over ‘Man, this isn’t going to work, every time I come here I’m going to wreck, every time I come here I’m going to have trouble, I can’t figure it out why even try.’ That attitude never works.’’

Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500 from Talladega Superspeedway at 1 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.

 

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