On a roll: Junior looks to continue stellar 2014 start at Richmond

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (center) talks with crew chief Steve Letarte (left) in the Sprint Cup Series garage.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images for Texas Motor Spe

Richmond, a track where Earnhardt Jr. has three victories, is one of the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s favorites.

"We’ve had a good start to the season, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the car," said Earnhardt Jr., voted NASCAR’s most popular driver a record 11 consecutive years. "It was nice to have a weekend off and enjoy some time with friends, but I’m excited to get to the track and in the car for practice and see where we are at."

In 29 Sprint Cup starts at RIR, Earnhardt Jr. has one pole and 12 top-10 finishes — including nine top fives and his three wins.

Earnhardt Jr., whose last win at the three-quarter-mile facility came eight years ago with Dale Earnhardt Inc., has led a total of 494 laps and completed 99.2 percent of all laps he’s attempted at the flat D-shaped track.

Earnhardt Jr. has captured all three of his Richmond wins in the track’s spring event, prevailing for the first time in his rookie season of 2000 and again in the spring of 2004 and ’06. Earnhardt Jr. has not broken through at RIR since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

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"Hopefully, we can have a good weekend at Richmond," he said. "I’ve had some really good cars, and won some races here. Then I’ve had some unexplainable poor runs; just had cars where I couldn’t get around the track."

Eight races into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Earnhardt Jr. ranks fourth in the driver standings on the strength of his Daytona 500 win and four other top-five finishes. He trails championship leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 26 points.

Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in the 2013 standings, his best finish in six seasons with Hendrick Motorsports and his best finish in three seasons with crew chief Steve Letarte.  

"The team just continues to get better every year," said Earnhardt Jr., whose last multi-win season came in 2004 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. "We really have progressed and improved steadily in the last three or four years to where we are now performing the way we are now.

"It’s been a labor of love but we look forward to trying to have more success this year, winning more races. I think we can have multiple wins this year — for the first time in a decade."

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And one track where Earnhardt Jr. has an excellent shot at winning is Richmond, where he clearly knows what it takes to get to Victory Lane.

"On Saturday, everybody’s going to be hunting for the bottom line," he said. "The guys that get through the middle, can keep that left-front working that line, are going to have good runs. If you get off the bottom, it’s just so slick, you can’t really make any ground up there."