Wins, confidence scarce

Earnhardt drought drags on, and he can't see the end of it

May 18, 2011|By George Diaz, Tribune newspapers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a startling admission while promoting the new HD video screen at Charlotte Motor Speedway in conjunction with Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race, saying: "I don't feel a win is close."

This is why Earnhardt is always on the amateur therapist's couch, prompting probing questions.

I figured — along with a bunch of other folks — that Earnhardt was close to breaking his winless streak of 104 races. He has been among the most consistent drivers on the Cup circuit this season. He is in fourth place, with two top-5 finishes and five top-10 finishes. He is only 52 points behind points leader Carl Edwards.

And we all know the deal with the long scrum of a NASCAR race: If you have a good car and are fortunate enough to avoid the usual litany of wrecks, chances are you will be somewhere in the lead pack, poised to make a run at a victory.

So what's up with Earnhardt? His vote of no-confidence conjures up all the baggage that goes with the demands of his last name.

His father is a NASCAR icon. And depending on whom you talk to, Earnhardt either is poised to make a run at relevancy or is an overhyped driver whose status is based on his last name.

"I don't know where the win is going to come or if and when it will come," Earnhardt said, "but we're just going to keep working really hard and putting ourselves in position."

You would think Earnhardt would be pleased with the early run of the NASCAR season after failing to make the Chase the last two years. He has a new crew chief in Steve Letarte, and things seem to be clicking.

And then he takes this introspective left turn.

"It's always really tough because it's hot and there are some tracks in there that I'm inconsistent at," he said of the upcoming summer schedule. "It's already a high-pressure situation just being in the sport alone."

You think? It's part of the deal you signed up for, and you are paid handsomely if you succeed. More money is on the table this week as Earnhardt tries to qualify for the all-star race. He still has two shots, either by winning the Sprint Showdown or getting the most votes among fans as a write-in candidate.

"I don't take it for granted that we'll get the fan vote," he said. "Anything can happen."

Who knows? You might even win a race.

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