It took 143 races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to find Victory Lane again, but he did it in June at Michigan. The team brought the same car back, but the driver damaged the prize car when he went for a spin at the end of the last practice.
Earnhardt knew the car was fast, but he complained that it was tight. Apparently adjustments got him loose, he was high out of the groove going into a turn and backed the car into the wall.
The backup car was immediately unloaded, but with only a few minutes left before the end of practice, the car was not able to make a lap and will start at the back of the field for the Pure Michigan 400.
Backup cars are now usually prepared just the same as the primary car, so it should take little adjustment to get the car ready.
Track position is important at Michigan, and therein lies the problem for the driver who is currently fourth in the point standings and needs a second win to better his position in the Chase.
Earnhardt will join his teammate Jimmie Johnson at the back of the field. When the No. 48 was fired up in the practice session today, a problem with the engine was observed that caused the team to change it.
It took only 44 minutes to change the engine and the car was back on the track for the few remaining minutes in the practice session. It was no surprise to see the car cranking out top speeds.
During the June race, Junior started 17th and went on to lead 95 of 200 laps, including the final 30 that took him to Victory Lane.
Earnhardt retains his confidence and optimism about winning races despite the 28th-place finish at Watkins Glen after a spin.
His crew chief Steve Letarte may be the one to win the race for the No. 88 team with pit strategy and cheerleading at Michigan.
If wins are to come for Earnhardt—as many expect, including the driver—it is best they are in the Chase. Still, it would be good to gain some bonus points with another win heading into the Chase.
It is clear that backup cars can be winning cars. Some tracks are easier than others to make it from the back to the front. Michigan is not one of those tracks.
If Earnhardt and Co. can garner a win at Michigan, it just may solidify the fact that he is a serious contender for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title.