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NASCAR Sprint Cup: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s words show more confidence

By Jim Utter
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/23/19/41/1mpIoN.Em.138.JPG|216
    Mike McCarn - AP
    Following a second-place finish two weeks ago in the Southern 500 – a race that has left Dale Earnhardt Jr. scratching his head more times than not – he virtually dismissed the effort.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/23/19/45/Eg2Ob.Em.138.jpeg|238
    Mike McCarn - AP
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. reaches for his helmet before a NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race practice at Darlington Speedway in Darlington, S.C., Friday, April 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/23/19/45/ksLtP.Em.138.jpeg|191
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Kevin Harvick (4) passes Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) in Turn 4 on the next-to-last lap during the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C., Saturday, April 12, 2014. Harvick won the race. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/23/19/45/1egWyI.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Jonathan Ferrey - Getty Images
    DARLINGTON, SC - APRIL 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/23/19/45/jr5vr.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images
    DARLINGTON, SC - APRIL 11: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

More Information

  • Toyota/Save Mart 350 at a glance
  • Next Race

    Toyota Owners 400

    Where: Richmond (Va.) International Raceway

    When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday

    TV: Fox

    Radio: Motor Racing Network

    Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick



There was a time in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career at Hendrick Motorsports when he would take a second-place finish and savor it much like a victory.

For instance, the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he combined for five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes.

That’s not the case anymore, and that’s speaks volumes about how far Earnhardt has come in six-plus seasons with HMS.

Following a second-place finish two weeks ago in the Southern 500 – a race that has left Earnhardt scratching his head more times than not – he virtually dismissed the effort.

“Running second is great, but nobody is going to really remember that,” he said.

Changes to the Chase format this season make wins virtually the only guarantee to competing for the championship, but there seemed something more to Earnhardt’s assessment.

He said he was proud of his No. 88 team’s effort but remained keenly aware his opportunities to win at a track like Darlington (S.C.) Raceway are growing fewer.

It also is a testament to the confidence Earnhardt has in his team and in himself.

That confidence shows on the track and in Earnhardt’s interviews. In fact, he appears more at ease as a member of HMS and more comfortable in his role as one of the sport’s top drivers than perhaps any other time during his Cup career.

Even when he was winning multiple races a season at Dale Earnhardt Inc., he didn’t appear as involved in the organization or as interested in his position in the sport as he does now.

In the end, that might play as large a role as anything in whether he captures his first series title.

Notes

Truck racing – sort of – at Charlotte: The Off-Road Championship, a popular Baja-style truck racing series, will return to The Dirt Track at Charlotte on Friday and Saturday for the Husqvarna Showdown.

The series includes drivers Jessie and Jarit Johnson, brothers to NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, Arie Luyendyk Jr., and father and son duo, Johnny and CJ Greaves.

TORC drivers compete in two- or four-wheel-drive trucks over jump-filled natural terrain tracks. Gates will open at 4 p.m. both days, followed by qualifying, with opening ceremonies scheduled for 7 p.m.

Tickets purchased in advance are $10 per day, and children 12 and younger are free. Tickets are available at TORCseries.com or at the gate on the day of the event.

JR Motorsports adds driver: Austin Theriault, a 20-year-old late model racer from Fort Kent, Maine, will drive three races for JR Motorsports this season in the Nationwide Series in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

Theriault should make his series debut May 18 at Iowa. He also is scheduled run the July 12 race at New Hampshire and Sept. 20 at Kentucky.

Suarez gets Nationwide ride with JGR: Daniel Suarez, a member of the NASCAR Drive 4 Diversity program who is running full-time this season in the K&N Pro Series East, will make his Nationwide Series debut Friday night at Richmond, Va., with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Suarez will drive the No. 20 Toyota. “Daniel is certainly someone that has proven to have a lot of talent and we are thrilled this was able to come together and allow him to make his debut at Richmond,” said team president J.D. Gibbs.

Hendrick pit coach leaves: Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Monday that Lance Munksgard, who most recently served as pit crew coach for its Nos. 48 and 88 teams, was moving to Texas to work for a family business.

A Hendrick spokesman said Greg Morin and Chris Krieg will coach the team until a new coach is named.

RCR adds business director: Richard Childress Racing named Matt Shearer as director of business development for the 15-time championship organization. Shearer most recently worked at Churchill Downs Inc. in its partnership development and sales departments.

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