Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to break losing streak at Darlington
Hartsville, S.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he’s gone faster at every track he’s raced at this season — and he’s certain Darlington Raceway won’t be any different.
Earnhardt will try for his first Sprint Cup victory at the Southern 500 tonight. He’s also hoping to end a nearly four-year winless drought on the circuit stretching back to his first year driving for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt’s nearly four-year winless drought grew to 139 races when he finished ninth last week at Talladega.
“We want to get to victory lane and we’re getting closer,” Earnhardt said Thursday.
Earnhardt has seen the improvement in his No. 88 Chevy team all season long and the results have backed that up. He’s third in the points and has had eight top-10 finishes in the 10 races this season.
“I think we’re a faster team this year,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been running better everywhere this year so I’m expecting to step it up a little bit and challenge for the win” at Darlington.
That hasn’t come so easy for Earnhardt, who has not had the love affair his late father had with the old country track. Dale Earnhardt won nine times on the track “Too Tough To Tame,” second all-time behind NASCAR Hall-of-Famer David Pearson’s 10 Darlington wins.
The best Dale Jr. managed here are a couple of fourths in March 2002 and May 2008, his first year driving for Hendrick Motorsports. It was a few weeks later when Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag for the last time, winning at Michigan for his lone victory in 154 starts for owner Rick Hendrick.
Earnhardt won 17 times driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. before joining Hendrick.
Darlington is unlike any other NASCAR track, Earnhardt said, where conditions change from lap to lap because of how quickly tires lose their grip. A repaving of the track in 2008 increased speeds and consistency. However, Earnhardt said the track’s wearing down a bit. “It’s looking like the old Darlington where people are sliding everywhere,” he said.
Not that the repaved surfaced helped Earnhardt, who went 27th, 11th and 14th at Darlington the past three years.
Back in 2010 after crashing his primary and backup cars in Southern 500 practice, Earnhardt talked about how the track’s maddening corners, narrow straightaways and tire-chewing surface would one day drive him from the sport.
“I’ll probably come here when I’m 45, run a race and say, ‘The hell with it,'” Junior said then.
Earnhardt was heartened with last year’s run when he had a top 10 going before a pit-road violation led to a pass-through penalty that dropped him back to 14th.
Biffle wins pole
Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle won his second career pole at Darlington Raceway, sweeping past the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne to start up front for the Southern 500.
Biffle was the next-to-last to hit the track for qualifying with a speed of 180.257 mph and pushed past Johnson and Kahne — who each finished with identical speeds of 179.556 mph.
Danica Patrick had the 38th fastest time in her second career Sprint Cup event.
Joey Logano wrecked leader Elliott Sadler five laps from the end, then broke free during a green-white-checkered finish at Darlington Raceway for his second straight Nationwide Series victory.
Denny Hamlin finished second and Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) third. Danica Patrick was 12th.
Credit: The Associated Press.