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Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoping for repeat results

By David Scott, The Charlotte Observer –

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Seems like whenever Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to the Irish Hills of Michigan, he’s answering questions about his most recent victory on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit.

Earnhardt’s past two triumphs have come at Michigan International Speedway, one earlier this season and way back in 2008.

That four-year stretch between victories was the longest of Earnhardt’s career. When it ended in June at Michigan, it solidified Earnhardt as a solid championship choice for this season: He’s now fourth in the standings, 15 points behind leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

But Earnhardt insists returning to Michigan holds nothing special for him, although his chances at winning Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 got more complicated on Saturday when he wrecked his No. 88 Chevy in practice.

That means Earnhardt, who qualified 22nd, will start from the rear of the field at the 1:16 p.m. green flag. Johnson, who would have started third, will also be in the back after changing an engine Saturday.

“It really doesn’t feel any different than going anywhere else that I haven’t won,” said Earnhardt. “The only thing is, there is a little bit of added pressure to go back out and have the same performance and run the same. I know that is not always likely.”

By using a backup car and starting at the rear Sunday, Earnhardt might be right. But in his past 15 races at Michigan, Earnhardt has an average finish of 10.9, a mark only bettered by Carl Edwards (8.3), Tony Stewart (8.9) and Matt Kenseth (9.5).

That suggests Earnhardt has a pretty sound idea of how to get around Michigan’s speedy 2-mile oval, which was repaved after the 2011 season.

“I don’t really have a strategy,” said Earnhardt. “You just go out there and try to lead. Get to the front. If you aren’t in front, get to the front and pass the guy in front of you. Pretty simple.”

Earnhardt is a lock to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins Sept. 16 in Chicago – five races away. The victory at Michigan in June helped boost Earnhardt’s confidence for his chances once the Chase starts.

“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “Getting over the hurdle, getting the first win does relieve you. It reassures you that your team can win. I think if we were still winless, we would still feel a bit snake-bitten, or somewhat cursed, I guess, in a way. That might mess with your psyche a little bit, mess with you mentally.

“But once you break through that barrier, it definitely gives you a reason to believe you can do it again.”

Said Johnson: “(He’s) real close to being on a hot streak of victories. Absolutely he is a threat.”

The weekend has brought a lot of off-track news from Earnhardt as well. His sponsorship with the Army National Guard has been extended. And Earnhardt is also going into the car dealership business with team owner Rick Hendrick, taking over two dealerships in Tallahassee, Fla.

Earnhardt, whose late father Dale Earnhardt owned a Chevy dealership in the Catawba County town of Newton (it still is in business), said he might have worked as a mechanic in a dealership if the racing thing hadn’t worked out. He actually did for a few years.

“That was what I did to pay my power bills for a few years,” Earnhardt said. “Through the experiences I had with my dad owning one, I am excited to sort of carve my own path and enjoy that same experience he enjoyed and make it successful.”

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