Friday, October 28, 2011
NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. seeks Martinsville win he lost in April
Earnhardt looks to end "months and months" of wondering after spring's near win at Martinsville.
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- Friday, 3:30-5 p.m.: Final Cup practice
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- Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: Truck driver intros
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Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s wait is finally over. After nearly seven months, NASCAR is back at Martinsville Speedway.
He's seeking the victory he lost in April, the last time the Sprint Cup Series competed at the historic half-mile speedway. He appeared headed for his first victory since the 2008 season, but then Kevin Harvick passed him with four laps to go and won.
"There are a lot of things you definitely would like another shot at in life," Earnhardt said.
Even with that runner-up finish — his best since the 2010 Daytona 500 — Earnhardt was less than thrilled that day, saying afterward: "I'm disappointed that I didn't get the job done, and it will probably bother me more and more as the night goes on. I'll probably think about it a million times, what I probably could have done differently."
For many drivers, those near wins stick with them as much as or more so than some victories. When Earnhardt thinks about the spring Martinsville race, he ponders what more he could have done to have gone through the corners better than Harvick.
There is one thing that sticks out to many about what Earnhardt didn't do that day: He didn't bump Harvick. That's not Earnhardt's style, even though it's accepted practice in the final laps of a short-track race. If Earnhardt had put a bumper to Harvick, some fans think, he might have won.
Instead, he raced clean and finished second — and has been left with questions.
"Every time you lose a race, especially losing one that close, you run it through your mind for months and months maybe, about what you could have done differently," Earnhardt said.
"You never know what might have been the outcome, had I done something different. I would not have raced anybody dirty, but maybe I could have done a better job putting laps together while I was out there in front, done a better job of not slipping up into [Turn] 1 and doing things to give him an opportunity to get under me and things like that."
It was only a few weeks after Martinsville that he nearly won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., losing the lead on the last lap when he ran out of fuel. While that also was heartbreaking, one can view that as a team loss because so much goes into a fuel-mileage race, from how much the gas man gets in the car to the strategy of the crew chief and how much the driver can save.
In a situation like Martinsville, it's easier for a driver to focus on what more he could have done, since it wasn't fuel-mileage strategy that got him the lead or cost it. It was simply him versus another competitor.
Now, with the series back at Martinsville this weekend, Earnhardt can begin to possibly answer the questions he's pondered the past few months.
This race comes at the right time for Earnhardt, who has placed in the top 10 in five of the past seven Martinsville races. Since placing third in the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt has not finished better than 14th in the past five races.
While Earnhardt enters this weekend out of the title hunt — he's ninth in the standings, 74 points behind series leader Carl Edwards — Earnhardt has said that there's still much left in this season for him.
"You still want to put forth the best account you can for yourself in the points," said Earnhardt, winless in his past 125 Cup races. "You do not want to finish outside the top 10."
Roanoke fan wins Junior's car
This month, The Dale Jr. Foundation held a raffle that awarded Dale Jr.'s personal 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible to a lucky ticket holder. Gail Fontaine, of Roanoke, took ownership of the grand prize when Earnhardt handed over the keys on Sept.27 at JR Motor-sports.