Earnhardt facing must-win at Talladega after rough Kansas race

Kansas City, Kan. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to own Talladega Superspeedway. After a disappointing run at Kansas Speedway in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, he’ll need to re-ascend to the throne next Sunday if he is to keep his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hopes intact.
Can do, Earnhardt, who finished 21st at Kansas and two laps off the pace at Kansas, said after exiting his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on pit road.

“Don’t count us out,” he said. “We got confidence and we definitely have the car to do it…and Talladega is a race we can win.”

Earnhardt did not have the car to do it at Kansas. Nor did he have the precision in the pits that championship hopefuls need.

He started 15th in the second of the three Contender Round events and moved backwards from there.

He was plagued by vibrations a couple of times in the race and then, on Lap 160 of the 267-lap event, what he believed to be a loose wheel sent him to the pits under green. When he emerged, he had dropped off the lead lap.

It marked the second time in the Chase that a loose wheel caused him problems. At Dover a couple weeks ago, he was plagued by one. But before he was about to pit, a caution saved him from having to make a green flag stop and allowed him to advance to the three-race Contender Round.

Despite the wheel problems, Earnhardt insisted after the Kansas race that he has big confidence in his crew and crew chief.

“I’m fine,” he said. “We’ll get it figured out. I believe in my guys. I really do.”

Earnhardt, who will start the race at Talladega next Sunday 11th in points and 31 points out of the eighth and final berth in the Eliminator Round. A good finish won’t be good enough for Earnhardt’s championship chances. He will likely need The Finish.

His overall history at Talladega says a victory is very possible.

Earnhardt won the spring race at Talladega this year — but his the last victory before that was in 2004.

Earnhardt, who said he arrived at Kansas knowing he would likely need to win Talladega in order to advance, said, basically, “so what” to that.

“I know that one race, one opportunity, one chance makes the odds feel bad, but we won there this year,” he said. “And we went to Daytona (which, like Talladega is a restrictor plate track) and ran third in the 500 and we won our 125 (qualifying race).”

Earnhardt was asked late Sunday afternoon about the frustration of having such a good season boil down to the X-Factor event. He sneered.

“I’m not frustrated and I’m not emotionally drained or anything like that,” he said. “The Chase is going to give you these kind of results.

“I’ve been in this before and it is what it is. We’ll go and try to run hard and if we can’t win the championship this year, it’s not life-threatening.”

Jim Pedley – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

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