Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have extended his winless streak to 132 races, but he did something we haven't seen in several years by leading the second-most number of laps in the Kobalt Tools 400.
Tony Stewart, the race winner, led 127 of the 267 laps, including the final one when he took the checkered flag.
Earnhardt headed to the lead after the green flag waved and led 70 laps in the beginning of the race. It was one more reason to give credence to the fact that Junior is confident and close to winning.
Tire strategy and losing the clean air found him running around the top 10 for much of the race, but in the end he finished 10th and moved to fourth in points, one marker higher than last week.
The driver of the National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew No. 88 ran strong on an intermediate track, which has often been problematic for him. It just may be they have the 1.5-mile program figured out.
It also appeared the 88 team took a tip from those in real estate who know location is everything. Junior qualified fourth but started better because of the cars that were forced to the rear.
Earnhardt's average finish at Las Vegas was 16.8 and 17.4 for intermediate tracks.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol next week, a track that plays to Junior because he has to drive the car without having to deal with aero packages.
The fast half-mile track requires the drivers to be up on the wheel yet out of harm's way. Qualifying will once again be important at the short track, where passing can be troublesome.
There is little doubt that with every lap Earnhardt led, his confidence in himself and his team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte, continued to grow.
As long as he can finish in the lead pack, perhaps get a win or two and stay up in the points, he will make the Chase once again.
Doubters will still call him a top-10 driver at best, but it is evident Earnhardt is getting his groove back, and the laps led at Las Vegas were proof.
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