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Dale Jr. hopes to "have something to smile about" by season's end

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Dale Jr. hopes to "have something to smile about" by season's end
By:
Aug 5, 2017, 5:58 PM

Performance-wise, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final full-time season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been a struggle to put it mildly.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Through the season’s first 21 races, he is 22nd in the series standings with one top-five and four top-10 finishes. His season’s best finish of fifth came more than four months ago at Texas.

And he and his No. 88 Hendrick Motosports team are in real danger of missing the playoffs, which would eliminate any chance he has of winning a championship before his retirement.

After a strong run in June on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., Earnhardt was hoping this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International could provide an opportunity for a win or good finish.

So far, though, it’s been another struggle.

“I want to go out there and run good. It isn’t where we want it to be. Today has been a struggle. I thought we had a great car at Sonoma and coming in here the car’s not very good off the truck and we’re making a ton of changes,” Earnhardt said Saturday.

He was 26th-fastest in the first practice and even after the set-up changes, he managed the 31st-fastest speed in the final practice.

Expectation vs. reality

Earnhardt was asked if he thought fans may have had unrealistic expectations about his return this season, after missing much of last year recovering from a concussion.

“I don’t know what the expectations were. I really don’t know what people thought we were capable of. I know what our potential is,” he said. “You look at 2013, 2014, 2015, that’s our potential. I expect us to be able to maintain that type of performance and we haven’t been able to do it but I think it’s what we’re capable of.

“There are a lot of reasons we haven’t been able to put together the kind of speed in the cars that we need. The 42 (Kyle Larson) has been strong all year, the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) – they’re in a different world.

“We want to go out and win races. It’s easy to say that but, damn man, we’ve got a lot of speed to find. It’s not like we’re going to show up and drive around them guys. They’re half a second faster than us every week. So, we’ve got some work to do before the end of the year if we’re going to feel like we can legitimately contend for a win.”

The proper mindset is key

Earnhardt said he has tried to encourage his team that on any given weekend, they could rediscover the right combination to bring the speed to his No. 88 necessary to compete for a victory.

“We have to go into every race like this is going to be the week that we get it done. I think that’s the only attitude you can have if you expect to take advantage of an opportunity because one might fall in your lap and we just might find what we’re looking for before the season is over,” he said.

“Certainly if we miss the playoffs, we’re still going to try to win a race. We’re still going to show up and try to give it everything we’ve got. There’s nothing worse than leaving the race track feeling like you didn’t try your best or didn’t give everything you had.

“I certainly ain’t going to finish my last season like that and carry that with me the rest of my life. So, we’re going to work hard all the way to the very end and hopefully we have something to smile about at some point before it’s over with.”

 Click on the image to watch video from Watkins Glen:

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Author Jim Utter