It’s clear that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is tired of settling for second place. For the fifth time this season — and the third time in the Chase for the Sprint Cup — Earnhardt finished as runner-up Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We’re not running second by making mistakes," said Earnhardt, who has posted top-10 finishes in six of eight Chase races but now has a 55-race winless streak. "We’re not giving away wins. So I feel like we’re just getting close to cracking through, and just trying to maintain the momentum with two races to go is going to be tough, but that’s what we’re focusing on."
Although the engine failure Earnhardt experienced in the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway knocked him out of contention for the title, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports crew used that setback as a catalyst to bring the team forward.
“The Chicago deal is regrettable,” said Earnhardt, who started seventh at Texas. “We’d love to go back and do that over again, but as soon as that happened, we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race. Winning a race would really lift all the team’s spirits.
"You work all season long not to go winless. . . . So, I know how much the guys want the win on the team. So, that’s what we’re working for now. . . .
"I’ve got two races to go and we’d love to get a win in one of them and continue to have a good run here the Chase.”
In the past eight races, Earnhardt has climbed from 13th to fifth in the points standings. He trails Johnson by 62 points with two races remaining — Phoenix, where he has won twice, and Homestead, where his best finish is 10th, posted last year.
Last week, Hendrick Motorsports tested at Homestead — a 1.5-mile track that will hold the season finale Nov. 17.
“We want to put forward a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you’re in there for a reason and you don’t want to be an also-ran,” Earnhardt said. “So, we feel like we’re doing a lot of good work and getting really close to probably breaking through and getting a win. We’ve only got two more opportunities at it, but real pleased with just the speed of the car.
“I think our team has continued to get better every season, and it’s really showing, especially right now in the results that we’ve got.”