WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – You can’t wipe the smile off the face of Dale Earnhardt Jr., not even at a road course.
With five races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, Earnhardt is in unfamiliar territory as the series gets set for the second and final road race of the season at Watkins Glen International on Sunday – he’s perched atop the points standings.
A year ago at The Glen Earnhardt was 10th, just one point ahead of eventual champion Tony Stewart. The top 10 drivers in the points and two wild-cards qualify for NASCAR’s version of a postseason.
“Coming here in 10th place just trying to hang on to a spot in the Chase is really, really tough, especially for someone like myself who is more cold than hot (here),” Earnhardt said Friday as he waited for a steady rain to stop so Cup practice could begin. “We’ve had good tests. We’re feeling positive about our chances of having a good run.
“We struggled at Sonoma and we struggled in our test earlier in the season, too,” said Earnhardt, who qualified 19th and came home 23rd on the circuit’s other road course in June. “We kept working at it and made a lot of gains, gained a lot of speed. I’m excited to see how it’s going to pay off this weekend. I feel pretty confident we’ll be able to put up an effort we can be proud of.”
Earnhardt, who has nine top-five finishes and 15 top-10s, leads Matt Kenseth by five points, with Greg Biffle another point back and five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson eight points behind.