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Dale Earnhardt Jr. riding the wave

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Mar. 29, 2013

For the second consecutive season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading the Sprint Cup Series standings.

He is hoping this season’s stint lasts a little longer than a year ago.

Earnhardt held the position just two weeks during 2012 following Indianapolis and the second Pocono race. He still was second in points after the 25th of 36 races but ended the year 12th after missing a pair of races while recovering from a concussion.

Earnhardt does lack a win this season, but he is the only driver with a top-10 finish in each of the first five races. He holds a 12-point lead over second-place Brad Keselowski.

Earnhardt recently was asked about his strong start to the season and his continued quest for a first Cup championship.

Q. When you see your teammates celebrate success, does it make you want it that much more?

The fans really like it when you go to Victory Lane, obviously, and you get a lot of great feedback from the fans, but man, it’s really different when you go into the shop and you see the employees that don’t actually travel. You get to go around and see every single one and ring the bell and they get into it and they get excited.

Every employee rings the bell. It’s fun, I enjoyed that. I thought it was a good way to sort of bring everybody together as one unit, one team. I’m ready to ring … it. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do that more often because the employees and all the people that work really hard on the cars don’t get the kind of credit we do and don’t get to travel and they really enjoy that.

Q. Does it bother you when people seem to forget you have contended for a championship?

No, not really. We’ve ran well, we’ve had good cars, too. We also had real good fortune on where we were restarting, what lane we’re in and just having good opportunities to get positions for various reasons at the end of these races. I think it’s a long year, going to have some bad luck, it’s bound to happen. Nobody runs the whole season perfectly, and I’m just trying to get as many points as we can as early as we can so when that bad luck comes it doesn’t hit us as hard as it hits some of these guys early.

Everybody wants to be in the Chase, it’s so important to be in the Chase. There’s so much publicity for your team and so much excitement to be able to race for the championship. Trying to build on the points early is important to me, but we’ve been so lucky in so many scenarios, too, in order to finish like we have in the last couple weeks. But it’s a long year.

Q. What is the mood of your team?

I think we’re feeling confident. The guys seem to be happy with the results. My crew guys really work real hard and expect good runs and expect us to run well, expect me to do my job. They hold me pretty accountable. It’s early. We’re just kind of grinding it out, got a lot of racing left to run. Got a lot of things to worry about besides where we’ll be come Richmond (Va.) after 26 races. We’ve got a lot of things to learn about this car. We’re still kind of going through a lot of growing pains with the car, understanding what makes it work. The mood is good.

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