June 16, 2012 in Sports

Earnhardt Jr. in Michigan, site of most recent win

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was willing to give up a possible win to ensure his points standing.
(Full-size photo)

Eleven top-10 finishes. Second place in the Sprint Cup standings.

That’s an impressive start to the season for any driver, but for Dale Earnhardt Jr., it only makes the question more persistent.

When will he finally win again?

“I feel like we’re getting real close,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been really competing well and been competitive every week, at every track, and that feels really good to say.”

Earnhardt is back at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., for Sunday’s 400-mile race – four years after he won at this same track. He’s without a victory in 143 Cup races since, and all the steady consistency in the world isn’t going to take the attention off that ugly streak.

Last weekend at Pocono, Earnhardt led 36 laps in his No. 88 Chevrolet and had it positioned as the car to beat until crew chief Steve Letarte made a call for a late stop for gas instead of trying to stretch the fuel to the end. Earnhardt finished eighth. He supported the call and said he’d take a top-10 finish any time over running out of gas.

“I knew that we weren’t doing the popular thing by pitting and taking the fuel,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt said he’s fine with the questions about his winless drought because at least people still care and are paying attention to him.

“It hasn’t been that incessant,” he said. “If you weren’t asking that kind of question I would be a little worried.”

Other drivers are certainly aware of Earnhardt’s dry spell.

“I feel if you go four months, it’s tough enough,” Jeff Gordon said. “I think it all depends on the expectations. If you won a lot of races and then you go into a slump like that, it weighs more heavy on you because you came to not just expect it but you feel like you’re capable and your team is capable of winning on a more regular basis.

“So when that all of a sudden doesn’t come it’s much tougher to handle.”

Greg Biffle can relate, sort of. He ended a 49-race winless streak in April with a victory in Texas.

“It wears on you,” Biffle said. “The other thing that is actually worse for (Earnhardt) right now is that he is running so good, that it seems like when you run as good as he is running, the pressure is even greater because you know a win is just around the corner, if that makes any sense.”

Earnhardt doesn’t seem to be pressing – witness last weekend’s move to pit rather than making a risky bid for a victory. This year, Earnhardt has finished second twice, third twice – and no lower than 17th.

• NASCAR is changing left-side tires for the Sunday race and will hold an extra practice session tonight. NASCAR informed teams of the switch Friday night, after a second consecutive day of soaring practice speeds at the newly repaved track. Goodyear says the higher speeds caused increased left-side tire temperatures, leading the company to change its tire recommendation.

Franchitti wins IndyCar pole at Milwaukee

Dario Franchitti won the pole position for today’s IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., and will lead the field to the green flag for the second year in a row.

Franchitti was fastest in Friday’s qualifying session, turning a two-lap average of 168.737 mph to win the 27th pole of his IndyCar career. Franchitti won the Milwaukee race from pole position last year.

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