Sprint Cup - Winless Drought Ended, Junior Focuses On Championship
Michigan, Jun. 20, 2012: With a four-year, 143-race victory drought decisively broken last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Junior can shift his focus on both long-term and immediate goals.
Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte – who also ended a lengthy non-winning streak, 115 races dating to 2009 – are in the thick of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship hunt. Matt Kenseth, who finished third at Michigan, retains the standings lead, but Earnhardt’s victory cut the margin to four points. The last time Earnhardt held the points lead was October 2004.Solid understates the No. 88 Chevrolet team’s performance 15 races into the 2012 season. Earnhardt and Letarte have a series-leading 12 top-10 finishes and have completed all 4,648 scheduled laps.
“I want to try to win a championship. That’s what you run the whole season for and our team has really, really good speed now,” said Earnhardt, who qualified for last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ after a two-year absence and finished seventh. “We ran well last year in the Chase, but we weren’t in the battle for the championship.
“If we can put together this type of performance in the Chase, I don’t see why we can’t consider ourselves with an opportunity to challenge for the championship. I've never had bonus points for the Chase. So that's neat.”
Which brings Earnhardt to the immediate – Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sonoma’s 1.99-mile road course. While the 37-year-old veteran has run well at Watkins Glen International, posting a pair of top-five finishes, Earnhardt is still waiting to break through at the Northern California layout with a trio of 11th-place finishes his best in 12 starts.
“We have to go to Sonoma and figure out how to get around there and how to get my first top 10 at that place,” he said.
Last year’s Sonoma race was a complete bust. Earnhardt wound up 41st after accident damage caused his car’s engine to overheat.