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Does Dale Earnhardt Jr. Think Milestones Don't Matter?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IApril 8, 2011

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 25:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 25, 2011 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

There are milestone markers on the NASCAR highway that measure driver accomplishments whether they are good or bad. Dale Earnhardt Jr. faces the possibility of his 100th winless race this weekend at the Samsung Mobile 500 in Texas.

Earnhardt Jr. got his first win in the top-tier series of NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway back in April, 2000.

The last win for the driver of the Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet was 99 races ago at Michigan International Speedway June 15, 2008. He currently ranks eighth in the point standings.

Junior continues to praise his new team led by crew chief Steve Letarte, who was formerly the crew chief for four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

After the Martinsville race where Earnhardt Jr. finished second, he said, "Steve did an awesome job with pit strategy. That's what got us here."

He added, "The race team works hard. When I don't have the speed, they find the speed and it's working real well together."

The driver of the No. 88 knows they still have work to do before wins come. Qualifying well certainly remains problematic for some reason. At Texas Motor Speedway, the majority of wins come from those who start in the top 10 like most tracks.

Statistics can have great importance in NASCAR, like Jimmie Johnson's five consecutive Sprint Cup championships or Richard Petty's record 200 wins.

They can also just be informative facts, like Mark Martin's 800th start or Greg Biffle's 300th start at Martinsville.

Kyle Busch led his 20,000th lap across three series at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon led his 20,000th lap March 3, 2009, but it took him a lot longer than Busch.

Winless streaks can weigh heavily on a driver as they wonder when that next coveted win will come. Kevin Harvick broke the drought of 115 winless runs at Talladega last year and it turned his momentum around with a third-place finish in the point standings.

The number 100 must be playing in the back of Earnhardt Jr.'s mind simply because it sounds worse than the two-digit numbers that have reflected his lack of wins.

After the Martinsville race, Junior expressed mixed feelings when he said, "I'm happy to be running well, to be in the mix. I'm thankful for the opportunity I've got, for the help I've got with my team."

Earnhardt added, "I'm frustrated that I got close and I'm leading, I'm going to take me home a clock. I hate I didn't win. I love this place. We got through this weekend and we'll try to bring back something better next time."

The passion to win looks to be strong with NASCAR's eight-time most popular driver. The winless races are driving him even harder to find that elusive victory.

He has made it clear he hopes to finish his racing career in the Cup series as a driver at Hendrick Motorsports.

Hope springs eternal with Dale Jr., his crew chief, team and of course the team owner, Rick Hendrick, who made the swap with teams that looks to be a great match for the driver of the No. 88 and Letarte.

Earnhardt Jr. summed up his future despite the looming 100th winless race. He said, "We'll win our share of races. I got a long time to go here."

Note: Quotes from Dale Earnhardt Jr. courtesy of post-race interview with Steve Byrnes on Speed TV.

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