Sunday, April 20, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Earnhardt Jr. primed for another banner season

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rick Hendrick

Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, talks with team owner Rick Hendrick before the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup series qualifying auto races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It’s been a decade since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lone Daytona 500 victory.

He’s come close so many times since, even finishing second three of the last four years, but has yet to make that coveted drive down pit road and into Victory Lane.

No one should be surprised to find him back there Sunday.

Forget that Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth have won the first three Sprint Cup races during Speedweeks. Disregard that Richard Childress Racing has pole-sitter Austin Dillon, who is driving the No. 3 made famous by Earnhardt’s late father, as well as three other stout cars. Ignore that anything can and often does happen at Daytona International Speedway.

This just might be Junior’s year. The 39-year-old driver seems primed for his best season ever, and it starts at the track forever linked to his family name because of triumph and tragedy.

“I’m excited about getting back out there,” Earnhardt said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we can do and how our performance is going to be right off the bat. It’s going to be a fun year, I think. I think we’re going to enjoy ourselves. We did last year. We seem to get better every year, and hopefully that trajectory is still the same going into this season.”

Earnhardt was fifth in points last season, his best showing since finishing third in 2003. And had NASCAR already switched to its new points system, Earnhardt would have won his first Cup championship.

He had eight top-10 finishes in the 10-race Chase, hitting his stride just a few weeks too late to catch Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Johnson edged Kenseth for his sixth title in the last eight seasons.

Earnhardt was nearly as hot as those two down the stretch, and he’s hoping to find some carry-over into “The Great American Race.”

He won the 2004 Daytona 500, the first of his six victories that season. But he has just four victories since and no multi-win seasons.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but time goes by pretty fast,” Earnhardt said. “It seems like these last several years have really flown by, especially when you enjoy yourself. They seemed to grind out when you’re not running too well, but the last couple of years have flown by pretty fast.”

Earnhardt made the Chase the last three years, becoming increasingly comfortably at Hendrick while working with crew chief Steve Letarte. Together, they turned around the No. 88 Chevrolet and made it a contender.

But Letarte announced last month he will step down after this season, leaving to become a race analyst for NBC Sports in 2015. So this year could be the ultra-popular driver’s best chance to win his first Cup championship.

“The biggest thing that stands out is just how well he and Junior connect,” said fellow Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon, who previously worked with Letarte. “You want to be able to have that experience as well as knowledge. He’s a smart guy, and you want to have that on your side in any shape or form, whether as a crew chief or in another role at Hendrick.”

That connection led Earnhardt to finish second to Jamie McMurray (2010), Kenseth (2012) and Johnson (2013) in recent years at Daytona.

“They’ve all been close,” he said. “In none of those races did I have a situation where I went, ‘I let it slip by. I messed up right there.’ Most of the time, we run our guts out and come to the finish line and we just never had a chance to make a move on the guy leading the race.

“When you make that move or have a chance and you don’t do the right thing and you lose, that’s difficult to swallow. Haven’t been in that situation even though we’ve run second.”

Recalling how those unfolded, Earnhardt already knows where he wants to be on the final lap Sunday — up front.

“As far as trying to win one of these races — or not run second again — I think we need to be up front,” Earnhardt said. “We’re not far enough toward the front. When we’ve run second, we’ve come from third or fourth or fifth or sixth those last few laps.

“You’re not going to win the race from back there. You might run second, but you aren’t going to win. You need to be leading the race. I would much rather be leading the Daytona 500 inside of five laps to go than be anywhere else.”

And if he in that position, he just might wind up in Daytona’s Victory Lane again.

“You never forget exactly what that day is like,” he said. “It all floods back to you as soon as you come back for Speedweeks each season. It’s very fresh, and you’re constantly reminded I think by just what goes on during Speedweeks how important that victory is and how much you would like to get it again. It’s definitely fresh.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Bay Area makes growth plans

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Supervisor candidates vary on Plan Bay Area

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 14 Comments | Gallery

Earth Day means cleanup Day for Suisun City

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 4 Comments | Gallery

 
Hop to it: Couple lights up home, yard for Easter

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: C1

Ranking the best Bay Area athletes

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
The Edge hosts Easter egg hunt

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3

Alooma Temple keeps children in mind

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield author to speak at women’s expo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

The resurrection has changed the lives of Christians

By Perry W. Polk | From Page: C3

 
Piano scholarship competition set in Vallejo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Understanding your health insurance

By Morgan Westfall | From Page: D4, 1 Comment

 
Armijo graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: C4

 
Record Store Day a commercial hit

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Easter egg hunt brings out the smiles

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Dutch Bros. joins Fairfield coffee corridor

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B7, 4 Comments | Gallery

City sets plan to dispose of property assets

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas | From Page: B7, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Counties tell Brown they need money for his law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
San Francisco probe leading to entrapment claims

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Exhibit recreates Warhol’s 1964 World’s Fair mural

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Ohio couple married 70 years die 15 hours apart

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
Documents detail another delayed GM recall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

At barricades, Ukraine insurgents await Easter

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Official: 3 bodies retrieved from inside ferry

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

13th body pulled from snow in Everest avalanche

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Costa Rican a celebrity after certified miracle

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14 | Gallery

.

Opinion

Government … for the government?

By Bill James | From Page: A8, 9 Comments

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Neighborhood speeders don’t get it

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 4 Comments

Why would a person do this?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

 
Sound off for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Jeb Bush, love, and today’s GOP

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
 
.

Living

Today in History for April 20, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Bill Nye says he underestimated debate’s impact

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3, 6 Comments

 
Book details lives of cloistered nuns

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

Horoscopes for April 20, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: D4

 
Pete spends weekends at my house but he never invites me to his

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: D4

.

Entertainment

Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers has book deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Tartt, Goodwin finalists for Carnegie medals

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book on fracking illuminates pros, cons

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

 
.

Sports

A’s score 3 in 9th, rally past Astros 4-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Warriors beat Clippers 109-105 in playoff opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Kings, Sharks look to put Game 1 in past

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Stults, Padres hand Giants third straight loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Hawks take 1-0 lead by rolling past Pacers 101-93

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raptors GM Ujiri uses profanity about Brooklyn

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Williams scores 24 as Nets beat Raptors 94-87

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Durant leads Thunder past Grizzlies 100-86

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Federer beats injured Djokovic to reach final

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Big names among prospective Buffalo Bills buyers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Indians set two new school records for track

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B4

 
Wie shoots 67, wins LPGA LOTTE Championship

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Travis Bowl Highlights

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Rapids, Earthquakes play to scoreless tie

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Stars Recreation bowling results

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Jimenez leads Langer by 1 shot in Greater Gwinnett

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Donald shoots 66, takes lead at RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Award-winning archery champ shoots with his teeth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

Survivors keep busy as Boston Marathon approaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Business

Why high oil prices are actually good for airlines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
US delays review of contentious Keystone pipeline

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Subscription sample boxes shake up beauty routines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Girls from modest families get lift in technology

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

Haunted house part of San Antonio apartment lofts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

 
Recalls this week: lanterns, exercise devices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

Review: Siri-like Cortana fills Windows phone gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
.

Obituaries

Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Margaret Elizabeth Silva

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Lloyd G. Hoffmeister

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Ramon Isidro

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

 
Rogelio Tinoco-Zamudio

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

James Leroy Barbour

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
William Paul Wehrly

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics