NASCAR’s most popular driver used Sunday’s Brickyard 400 to climb to a location that he’s not been able to reach since late in the 2004 season: the top of the points standings in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
For Earnhardt Jr., Sunday’s fourth-place finish at Indianapolis was the culmination of a season full of strong runs and consistent finishes.
“I’m proud of that (becoming the points leader) because it says a lot about our body of work,” Earnhardt said following the race. “All season long, we’ve been working hard and finishing well. That is symbolic of how well we’ve done. I’m proud of that. I have felt that way about our position in points all season long.”
With only six races remaining before the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set at the conclusion of the Sept. 8 event at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. knows that simply logging good finishes won’t get the job done.
“We need to win more races,” said Earnhardt, with one win currently in the books from the June event at Michigan. “If we want to win the championship, we have to (win more races). I imagine we can win a couple races in the Chase. I don’t know if finishing fourth of fifth is going to do it. We’ll just have to see. We’d like to step it up just a little bit more.”
Not only will race wins in the Chase be crucial to a championship, but race wins leading into the Chase are just as important as race wins will determine the standings when the Chase begins.
Prior to the start of the Chase, the series will visit several tracks that Earnhardt Jr. has a strong performance history at, and among those are the historic Atlanta Motor Speedway. Earnhardt has claimed one AMS trophy in his Sprint Cup career, winning the Golden Corral 500 in March of 2004. In 24-career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.54-mile facility, Earnhardt Jr. has recorded eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s for an average finish of 13. A pair of pole position and outside pole position starting spots also accompanies his name in the AMS record book.
There have been several races where he has ran well for much of the day but was unable to log the good finish he deserved, such as the 2007 fall race, when a top-five run was spoiled on the final restart by a loose wheel, causing him to crash into the turn one wall.
With Atlanta being a longtime staple on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Earnhardt Jr. has said that winning a race on the high banks of AMS is a different type of accomplishment.
“When you win at Atlanta or Bristol or Charlotte or Daytona, tracks that have been there for a very long time and have a lot of history, it’s a very good feeling for me,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I like winning races, obviously, but to go to Atlanta and win is a very different feeling than maybe a Chicago or a California.
“There’s a different sense of accomplishment. When you’ve done something that makes you part of a crowd like (Richard) Petty or Cale (Yarborough) or those guys that have won there, and you’ve seen your daddy win there so many times, it’s definitely a different feeling.”
Will Earnhardt Jr. remain the points leader as the series heads to Atlanta on Labor Day weekend? With many ticket specials expiring on Aug. 6, including the offer of a free ticket in the Earnhardt Grandstand when purchasing five tickets in that area, race fans are encouraged to lock in their discounted AdvoCare 500 tickets for Sunday, Sept. 2 now and cheer on NASCAR’s most popular driver as he competes for his second win at Atlanta and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.