Dale Earnhardt Jr. has most certainly not had the season that he dreamed of this year.
In fact, it has often been a struggle for NASCAR's most famous driver to even break into the top 10 during most races, and he will most likely not make the Chase this year, currently sitting 16th in the point standings.
Yet all that could change this weekend in the Irish Hills of Michigan, where Junior may just get that elusive win at a track that is one of his favorites. In fact, Michigan International Speedway was the site of Junior's last race win on June 15th, 2008, as well as his first points win for Hendrick Motorsports.
As an even better omen, in the June race this year at Michigan, Earnhardt Jr. started 27th and was in the top 10 within the first 60 laps of the race. He stayed with the leaders, scoring a top 10 finish in the seventh position, propelling him to three more top 15 finishes in June.
NASCAR's loop data also proves that this weekend's race in the Irish Hills of Michigan may just be the one for Junior to win. Earnhardt Jr. ranks sixth in the driver ratings at MIS, with a score of 98.6.
In 22 Cup starts at MIS, Earnhardt has his one race win, four top five finishes, eight top 10s, and two poles. He has led at least one lap in eight of his last 10 outings at Michigan's two-mile oval.
Junior also ranks eighth among drivers for laps run in the top 15 during the last 11 races at Michigan. He has spent 70.1 percent of all laps in the top 15 and has recorded an average finish of 9.9, the second best among all drivers.
Earnhardt Jr. is also running one of his favorite chassis at Michigan, Chassis No. 88-599. This was the chassis that Junior drove to his two most recent top 10s, in the June race at Michigan and in April at Texas.
"Lance (McGrew, crew chief) and the guys unloaded a great car last time at Michigan," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've had some good runs with this car."
"I enjoy going to Michigan. It has a lot of different grooves and we can move around and find places to run on the track."
Junior also has manufacturer motivation when it comes to competing, and hopefully winning, at Michigan International Speedway.
"We like coming here because it's in the backyard of the manufacturers," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Hopefully, we'll get a win for Chevrolet."
Crew Chief McGrew echoes his driver's feelings when it comes to racing in the Irish Hills.
"It's the Big Three's backyard (General Motors, Chrysler and Ford) and you always have a little extra pep in your step because there will be a lot of Chevrolet people there. The race means a lot to that area because of the fact that it's in their backyard."
"Not that it wouldn't mean the same to win anywhere else, but it would be especially sweet to win there. It was the last place Dale has won a race and we'd like to back that up."
And if Earnhardt Jr. needed any more inspiration for the upcoming Michigan race, he may just find it in his red, white, and blue No. 88 race car, promoting the National Guard's "Drive the Guard" program whereby National Guard soldiers can get their commercial driver's license while serving their country.
From the inspiration of the Guard to being at the site of his last race win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has all of the ingredients for a successful run in the Irish Hills of Michigan. And there is no doubt that Junior Nation is holding their collective breaths that their favorite driver will end up in the MIS victory lane.
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