When Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he was joining Hendrick Motorsports, he said he wanted to consistently run for wins and championships.
Starting tomorrow, he has that chance. He starts fourth in the Sylvania 300 and in the points chase, just 70 markers behind leader Kyle Busch.
Earnhardt Jr. has repeatedly said, as has Jr. Nation, this is his best chance to win the title and over the past few weeks has given credit to his team for a job well done.
It's been reported that during the media tour earlier this week, he was relaxed, having fun and in a fantastic mood. He was finally happy in life and happy to be back in the Chase hunt.
This means that the pressure not only to perform during the regular season, in order to quiet the critics, is still in strong force, because everyone now expects him to win the championship.
That's just fine with Earnhardt Jr.
"I love the pressure. That means I'm in the middle of it," he said. "I wouldn't change anything about my world as far as in this garage and how I'm treated by my friends and drivers, and really what my position is in this sport. I wouldn't give it up for nothing."
Earnhardt Jr. will certainly be put to the test over the next 10 weeks if he wants to walk out of Homestead-Miami with the title of Sprint Cup Champion.
First, he needs to regain the momentum and consistency he had in the beginning of the year to overtake Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Then he needs to continue working well with teammate Jimmie Johnson, all while trying to beat him.
Johnson could be Earnhardt Jr.'s most precious asset in the Chase. After all, he's won the last two of them. Of course other teammate Jeff Gordon will be contending too and he's also a four time champion.
But both Earnhardt Jr. and Jr. Nation know that this could finally be his year, so what would it mean to Earnhardt Jr. to finally capture that elusive title?
"It would improve my overall awesomeness," Earnhardt declared.
That's right, he said it.
But it's not the words of a cocky man who thinks he's going to come into the Chase and open up some on the competition. It's that Earnhardt confidence.
"I think he's got a lot more confidence this year," said Tony Stewart, one of Earnhardt Jr.'s friends. "He's always been confident off the track, but I think you see it in his driving on the track that he's got a renewed confidence that I don't think we've seen the last few years."
Earnhardt Jr. should be confident, he's having one of the better years in his career, and in ten weeks it could become the best.
"We're ready," he said. "I've got a great team, I love my guys, I love working for Rick. There's no reason why we can't win this thing."
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