clear
Tuesday December 12th, 2017 8:54AM
6:48AM ( 2 hours ago ) Weather Alert

Earnhardt hoping for Darlington breakthrough in final season

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is preparing for the end of his NASCAR career and understands it likely won't finish the way he hoped when he returned from injury this season.

Earnhardt, the most popular driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is 22nd in points and far outside the playoffs. Given the way his season's gone, Earnhardt accepts he'd need a miraculous finish to chase a title before he's done as a fulltime racer.

"I mean, it will either work out for us or it won't," Earnhardt said. "I have been in this situation before and I have certainly come to terms with how my season has went. Am I happy about it? No. Am I satisfied? No. What we are as a team (is) trying to steer ourselves in the right direction positively."

That starts Sunday night at the Southern 500. It's a track Earnhardt is fond of — and which now has a luxury suite section, "Earnhardt Towers," dedicated to himself and his late father — even though he's without a victory at the track "Too Tough To Tame" since first coming here as an Xfinity driver in 1998. His best finish was a second in the Southern 500 to Kevin Harvick in 2014.

"It's really rewarding when you get it right. And if you don't get it right it's a long weekend really for anybody outside the top three," Earnhardt said.

Those most likely to get it right Sunday night are defending Darlington champion and series points leader Martin Truex Jr., Bristol winner Kyle Busch, who won here in 2008; and Jimmie Johnson, a three-time winner this year seeking his first Darlington win since 2012.

Harvick won the pole Saturday, holding off Truex in second and Kyle Busch in third. Earnhardt will start his final Darlington race in 22nd.

Don't expect racers on or near the cut line — Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray are the final three in the 16-team playoffs without a win — to take too many risks since Darlington and Richmond are so dependent on fresh, new tires.

"There's not going to be any amazing (pit) calls here," McMurray said.

It was only a year ago, Earnhardt came to Darlington as an injured racer, updating the world on his progress at dealing with symptoms and vowing to come back. He had a final test last December that showed he had recovered and NASCAR gave Earnhardt the green light to return. In April, the 42-year-old Earnhardt announced his retirement at the end of what he anticipated would be a final championship try.

Instead, Earnhardt's No. 88 has been beset by speed issues and bad luck. After qualifying second at the Daytona 500, Earnhardt was caught up in an accident that left him in 37th. Things haven't progressed much since then and Earnhardt's had just four top 10 finishes and led just 21 laps the first 24 races.

"It's been fairly depressing," said Earnhardt's sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller. "It seems like it's just some luck things that happen here and there, and things that are beyond his control. It's certainly not the season of how I know that he would want this last season to be. It's not a lot to write home about lately, so it's been pretty depressing and disappointing."

Miller said she'll text Dale Jr. often to just keep his head up and focus on what's important. He's gotten the message.

He recalled how in 2004 Earnhardt and his brain trust, Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr., split apart despite success.

"We went from winning six races, happy as we could be, worked together all our lives and in one month couldn't stand to be in the hauler together, didn't even want to talk to each other," Earnhardt recalled.

Earnhardt won't let that happen again this year, win or lose.

"I don't want my guys to remember this season because we fought and fell apart and got negative and nasty and short with each other," Earnhardt said. "I want those guys to remember it, even if we don't win, or have success, I want them to remember that we worked our guts out and we stayed at it to the very end."

___

More AP auto racing: http://racingl.ap.org

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Auto Racing, NASCAR
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Hundreds protest immigration order outside Trump hotel
Hundreds of people have rallied outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City to protest the Trump administration's decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation
6:15AM ( 2 hours from now )
No. 20 Washington St beats Boise St 47-44 in 3 overtimes
No. 20 Washington State beats Boise State 47-44 on Morrow's touchdown in third overtime
3:08AM ( 27 minutes ago )
'I'm scared to death' says Key West woman riding out storm
Hurricane Irma regained strength as it closed in on the Florida Keys early Sunday as forecasters monitored a crucial shift in its trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the southwest Florida coast and over warm gulf water
2:38AM ( 57 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Larson steals win in NASCAR regular season finale
Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team snatched NASCAR's last victory before the start of the playoffs at Richmond
12:28AM ( 3 hours ago )
Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio St 31-16
Baker Mayfield was stellar in throwing for 386 yards and three touchdowns as No. 5 Oklahoma knocked off No. 2 Ohio State 31-16
12:15AM ( 3 hours ago )
The Bryants lead No. 3 Tigers to 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn
Quarterback Kelly Bryant and defensive end Austin Bryant led No. 3 Clemson to a 14-6 victory over No. 13 Auburn on Saturday night
11:44PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Sports
Hamlin: Penalties are fine as long as they're uniform
Denny Hamlin will be without his crew chief for the first race of NASCAR's playoffs
6:05PM ( 1 day ago )
Earnhardt, Logano facing win or else scenario at Richmond
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he hasn't imagined a fairy tale finish to his last NASCAR regular season
5:17PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Some NASCAR tracks are aiding Irma evacuees
The Latest: NASCAR tracks like Bristol, Atlanta, Charlotte and Talladega are opening their doors to Hurricane Irma evacuees
2:55PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Auto Racing
Earnhardt hoping for Darlington breakthrough in final season
Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands time is running out on his final NASCAR season and he needs a win to make the playoffs
3:23PM ( 1 week ago )
Kenseth puts on brave face as he's being shown the door
Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth had to race each other hard at Bristol in a battle that had awkward undertones
4:43PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Kyle Busch completes Bristol sweep with 20th win at track
It's Bristol Motor Speedway and Kyle Busch practically owns the place
11:16PM ( 3 weeks ago )
NASCAR
Hundreds protest immigration order outside Trump hotel
Hundreds of people have rallied outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City to protest the Trump administration's decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation
6:15AM ( 2 hours from now )
No. 20 Washington St beats Boise St 47-44 in 3 overtimes
No. 20 Washington State beats Boise State 47-44 on Morrow's touchdown in third overtime
3:08AM ( 27 minutes ago )
'I'm scared to death' says Key West woman riding out storm
Hurricane Irma regained strength as it closed in on the Florida Keys early Sunday as forecasters monitored a crucial shift in its trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the southwest Florida coast and over warm gulf water
2:38AM ( 57 minutes ago )
Rockies hand Dodgers 9th straight loss, worst skid since '92
Trevor Story hit a two-run homer and drove in three and the Colorado Rockies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5, sending the NL West leaders to their ninth straight loss in their worst skid since 1992
1:54AM ( 1 hour ago )
LEADING OFF: Indians go for 18, Brewers can sweep Cubs
LEADING OFF: Indians go for 18, Brewers can sweep Cubs
1:36AM ( 1 hour ago )