Road at Sonoma might be welcoming for Earnhardt
SONOMA, Calif. (AP)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows exactly where he stacks up on road courses.
''I don't really take them lightly, but I know that's not my forte,'' he said Friday. ''That's not really where my bread is buttered.''
The statistics speak for themselves: In 12 career starts at Sonoma, Earnhardt has never finished higher than 11th. At Watkins Glen, the only other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, he has three top-10 finishes - but none since 2005.
But he's running so well this season, Earnhardt believes he has a shot Sunday on the 10-turn, 1.99-mile scenic Sonoma course.
''We have had such a good season, and we come in here and we want to continue that,'' said Earnhardt, who will start 19th on Sunday.
Earnhardt ended his four-year losing streak last weekend at Michigan. He'd been steadily working his way toward Victory Lane all year, the most consistent driver through the first 15 races. He leads the series with 12 top-10 finishes, and he's the only driver to complete every lap this season.
He's wary, though, of what the good results mean.
''I don't know really, momentum, whether it's real or not,'' he said. ''You just kind of keep going to the race track and keep studying and keep testing and keep trying to learn and take the best thing you can to the race track each week. If you have a bad week, you've got to put it behind you and focus on what's been working. We've got a lot of confidence and we are feeling really good about what we have been doing, and this is the best I've felt in a really long time.''
He appreciated the visits to Victory Lane from other drivers last weekend. Earnhardt is NASCAR's most popular driver, and the pressure grew during his 143-race winless streak. His rivals seemed genuinely happy that the streak was over.
''I think it was good for us to see him in Victory Lane, and for him to get out of that media category of talking about losing more than (the) people who are winning is good,'' Kevin Harvick said. ''I think for him to get that pressure off of himself, to be able to get back in Victory Lane with the way that they have run all year is fun to see and obviously everybody wanted to see him win.''
Earnhardt said Friday there were several touching moments in the days following the victory. He was flattered musician Charlie Daniels tweeted about the race. He also was told a story by his brother-in-law, L.W. Miller, about a friend's father who is too ill to recognize his sons but was aware of Earnhardt's victory.
''All he was talking about was the race and us winning,'' Earnhardt said. ''That really kind of brings it home and makes you realize how something like that affects a lot of people you know and makes a big difference in a lot of people's lives. Pretty amazing to hear a story like that.''