After two uncharacteristically poor finishes in the first two restrictor plate races of the 2016 season that resulted in the loss of his beloved car nicknamed “Amelia”, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. heads into Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 hoping to make a return to Daytona’s famed victory lane.
Heading into Daytona, Earnhardt has been close to victory lane throughout the season, but his first win in 2016 has eluded him thus far. Sitting 12th in points with 10 races remaining until the start of the Chase, Earnhardt is the lone 2015 winner that has yet to win in 2016, so a good run on Saturday night would go a long way toward helping his No. 88 team in their quest for Earnhardt to be a contender for his first series title.
As the summer has progressed, Earnhardt has struggled to put together a string of top-10 finishes, leading to a little bit of frustration with his team, but Earnhardt has shown flashes of speed through the first 16 races of the season and just needs a little bit of luck to turn things around and capture his first win of the season.
“We are a little frustrated with how we ran through the month of May. We have seen more speed out of our cars and had some bad finishes, wrecks and so forth. Tore up a lot of cars this year, uncharacteristic I think for us to be in so many accidents. So, where we are in points is very frustrating,” said Earnhardt.
“I’m not real worried about our speed because I feel like we have had good speed over the last couple of weeks. Certainly, in May we didn’t and that was hard to do and frustrating. Hopefully, we just get to Richmond and we don’t have a lot of pressure about trying to make the Chase. Hopefully, we can put a string of races together that will give us a good cushion between us and the next guys fighting for those last few spots. Obviously, we need to get a win to put all that to bed, but nothing is guaranteed. If we don’t get a win going into the Chase we are going to have to do well in these next 10 races and just be real consistent.”
Considered one of the best restrictor plate racers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage, the statistics are definitely in Earnhardt’s favor to turn the tide on Saturday night. In 33 starts at Daytona, Earnhardt has four wins (2001, 2004, 2014, and 2015), 13 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, two poles, 593 laps led, and an average finish of 13.4, which ranks as the second highest among active drivers.
“I definitely come in here thinking this is a great opportunity to win a race. I’ve won 17 plate races in my career I think, something like that. Maybe it’s 10, six at ‘Dega and four here. I’ve won 17 races here counting the 125’s and Xfinity races and all that. This is a great place for me to get a win. I’ve got to come in there with that kind of confidence,” said Earnhardt.
“I do enjoy when you get out there and you are doing everything right and everything seems to be like you are in a zone. That is a fun time and that’s a good time. You go out there and you run and you come back in and your guys go ‘man I can’t believe you made that move’. I mean it’s fun to go out there and do stuff.
“We brought a new car that’s hopefully going to be a much better race car for us. We went back to our set-ups that seemed to work so well. So, the guys are always working and trying to find speed and we that really made the car unstable so we dialed some of that back out and went back to our older set-ups and hopefully that is going to be all we need to be competitive and be able to get up there and be aggressive.”