Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Paces Final Practice, Chasing First Road Course Win

By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor

Over the course of his Sprint Cup Series career, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s biggest Achilles Heal had been Sonoma Raceway.

Through his first 14 starts at the track, Earnhardt had never recorded a top-10 finish. He even once threatened to blow the track up with dynamite to demonstrate his frustration with the weaving and winding track in the land of wine.

However things began to take a turn for Earnhardt at Sonoma two seasons ago. That year he qualified a lackluster 17th, but when the race began he got up on the wheel and worked his way methodically through the field. When he crossed the finish line for the final time, Earnhardt erased the frustrations of the past 14 years with a third place finish.

Last season, Earnhardt recorded another impressive, and surprising top-10 finish at his once least favorite track.

Friday at Sonoma Raceway, Earnhardt was fourth in the opening practice session of the weekend, then he went on to pace final practice with a lap of 95.298 mph. Now he appears to be one of the favorites to win this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“When Greg [Ives, crew chief] and those guys unloaded the car we had run pretty good here the last couple of years. So, we just kind of kept going in the same direction set-up wise and it has been helping,” said Earnhardt. “Right off the truck, man, we were really fast.  Throughout the whole first practice we did a lot of race trim.  The car was incredibly quick.  I have never had a car this good here.”

Earnhardt believes that if things go his way on Sunday, that the race could be his for the taking.

“Well, we will obviously need some luck.  e have been quick here before and we definitely have the racecar that can win the race. If we have everything go our way on pit road and I don’t make too many mistakes out on the race track we should be in good shape,” Earnhardt explained.

According to Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, Earnhardt is the class of the field at Sonoma, he took notice via Twitter:

Earnhardt, who is still in search of his first points-paying win of 2016, has never won a road course event in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But with his recent trend of success at Sonoma and his incredible speed shown so far on Saturday, he very well could be on the verge of a huge breakthrough.

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Toby Christie is a contributing writer for Motorsports Tribune. He has been watching stock cars turn left since 1993, and has covered NASCAR as an accredited media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA). Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, sub-par guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

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