A Mountain Dew can of fuel—that's all that stood between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his second win of the season in just three races.
As his fans, known in the Sprint Cup circuit as Junior Nation, were celebrating the victory as if he had already won the points championship in Las Vegas. But his gamble didn't pay off, and Brad Keselowski pulled away from Earnhardt to clinch his first victory of the season.
Quite frankly, it could have been any 16-ounce can of fuel, but that was, of course, the way Earnhardt decided to describe the mishap during the final lap of the Kobalt Tools 400 with crew chief Steve Letarte, per NASCAR on Fox:
The two-time Daytona 500 winner is currently writing a new chapter of his NASCAR career with his recent string of unparalleled success this season. He's long been the most popular diver in NASCAR, but now his triumph is mirroring the fan support.
Though he wasn't able to be the first driver to win multiple races this season, Junior is still on track for one of the best seasons of his career. With 33 races remaining in the season, here's a look at the latest news on Earnhardt heading into the the Food City 500 in Bristol.
|Position||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||133||1||3||3|
|Kobalt Tools 400||Las Vegas Motor Speedway||14||2|
|The Profit on CNBC 500||Phoenix International Raceway||5||2|
|Daytona 500||Daytona International Speedway||9||1|
Dale Earnhardt Jr. News
For all the fans that stuck behind Earnhardt through the adversity over the last few years in which he rarely reached Victory Lane, this season has already been one to remember.
In his 16th season, Junior not only looks comfortable on the track, but he's clearly one of—if not the—top drivers in the field. The No. 88 has been in front of the pack or contending for the top spot in every race thus far as he passes the line for the checkered flag.
While it still stings Earnhardt and his entire team to fall short in Vegas, he told the Performance Racing Network that he didn't expect to make it all the way with the gas in his car (via Jeff Gluck of USA Today):
Dale Jr. tells PRN: "We tried to save as much as we could and make it work ... it's no shock to us to run out."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 9, 2014
Regardless of the finish at Vegas, the tenacity is clearly at an all-time high for Earnhardt and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Three of the drivers—Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon—all sit in the top five, while Kasey Kahne is still in contention at No. 15 in the standings.
While Johnson came into the season as the defending champion in Sprint Cup and eyeing his elusive seventh that would tie him with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, Junior has clearly been the leader in the garage to this point.
Even with all of the prosperity this season, Earnhardt and his crew still know there is a long season ahead for the No. 88 car, per Mike Hembree of USA Today:
The confidence is up there. Our team just keeps stepping up this ladder. The sky is the limit for us. If we are smart and keep our composure and don't get foolish and don't get too proud of ourselves and just keep it in perspective, we have a good opportunity this year.
As for his Twitter prowess, that hasn't fallen off one bit. While he has been on the social media platform for less than three weeks—he joined after winning the 500 and went on a selfie-fest—he's been just as popularity on Twitter as on the track.
And like many drivers on the circuit, Junior has used it as an opportunity to reach out to his fans. In part of a chat with his followers, the 39-year-old revealed that he's worried about the new qualifying format going into Bristol.
In the first short track race of the season, Earnhardt might not enjoy the same amount of success that he has in the early going, but it might not be far off.
During his 28 races at the track, Junior has just one win. Here is a look at the statistics throughout his career at Bristol:
|Total Races||Avg. Start||Avg. Finish||Avg. Position||Laps Led||Top-5||Top-10|
Where will Earnhardt finish in Bristol?
The amount of top-five finishes is a bit misleading over his career, as only one has come during his time with Hendrick. While he hasn't finished near the head of the pack in as many races, Junior has put together a better average finish in his 12 races at 11.3 with Hendrick.
The amount of top-two finishes the team has posted through the first three races is eventually going to stop, but it's still hard to pick against the No. 88 machine finishing in the top 10 or even the first five across the line.
With the type of momentum Junior and his entire team brings into Bristol, another strong finish is to be expected until he proves otherwise.
Predicted finish: 6th