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Sunday, June 17, 2012

That sound you hear? It's the huge weight falling off Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s back after his win at Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- No, Dale Earnhardt Jr's win at Michigan Speedway Sunday does not cure the world's ills.
Nobody is going to be healed from cancer or jump up out of their wheelchair as a result of his dominating win on Father's Day in the Village of Brooklyn.

As Tony Stewart told the media after finishing second, by over 5 seconds, "It's not a national holiday, guys"

And he's right, well except if you're part of Jr. Nation -- then it's the biggest holiday you've celebrated in a long time; about 4 years actually.
But in the overall scheme of things in NASCAR, no it's not a huge deal.

But to Jr., to the #88 team, it does mean something, a lot actually.
Initially, it means that the media won't be asking them every week: "When are you going to break that losing streak?" Even as a media member, I can recognize that a question like that would get annoying after a while, even if it is legitimate to ask it.

But much bigger than that, this victory does something that is far more important to them that what the media asks -- it gives them the confidence to make a title run.

If Earnhardt has ridden out this year racking up top 5s and top 10s and gotten into the Chase without any wins, they would not be viewed as a serious threat for the crown.
Where are the wins?, everyone would ask.

Now he has one, and by the way he's run lately and the confidence he showed when he just spoke to the media, I wouldn't put it past him to knock a few more wins out this year.

That's not to say it won't happen, but you have to look at how this victory happened to really predict the future.
He didn't just coast into Victory Lane on fuel mileage; he whooped the field, including Tony Stewart, who was a bit surly with the media afterward (he must be trying to catch up to Kurt Busch in media hatred.)

"I saved a little in my pocket in the last 50 laps and ran only as hard as I thought I needed to," Jr. said after the win. "And at the end of the race, this thing was a rocket and I couldn't slow it down, it was so fast."

Jr. won big, and when you win like that, there's a good chance you'll win again. It's not a luck thing.

Jr. said that unlike last year, the team is improving as the year progresses, which speaks well to their championship hopes.
"I feel like we are getting stronger. One of the things that we did last year throughout the season was kind of maintain, and I was a little ‑‑ even though I was happy as hell to be with Steve and be able to run well and be competitive, I was a little disheartened that I didn't progress through the year really. I didn't find more speed as the year went on. We just kind of stayed the same throughout the season," he said. "This year, we have gotten faster throughout the year. We started off pretty quick and we have gotten quicker, and quicker, especially these lastcouple weeks. So that's been a thrill for me."

So Jr. Nation can rejoice today, Jr. is going to go party all night, maybe a couple, go to the Hendrick shop and "ring the hell" out of the victory bell, then start next week on his quest to get another win.

And trust me, it won't take him four years to do it.

Credit the crew chiefs

Dale Jr. had high praise for his crew chief, Steve LeTarte, who had been the guy who has perhaps done more to get Jr. to Victory Lane than anyone since his days with Tony Eury Sr. These guys work well together, and the team is making cars that can win

"Steve and the whole team, you know, deserve ‑‑ especially today that, car you know, it wouldn't have mattered who was driving it today. That car was going to be the fastest thing out there and going to win the race. That car deserves all the credit, so the guys that put it together deserve all the credit," Jr. said. "Steve is just really sharp. He called a great race. I trust in him to do that every week, and I know he will. You know, I just trust that he's looking out for ‑‑ not for the best interests of just me. He looks out for the entire team and puts great people around himself to be able to do the job right. We have a good group."

Letarte returned the compliment, saying he has always known Jr. could win races: "Never in a moment or a day did I ever question his desire to drive."

And ever the joker (get the Batman reference there), Earnhardt said -- in reference to Tony Stewart's claim that Jr. winning isn't a "national holiday":

"For me it is. I'm sure his running second for me won't be a holiday, either."

Then his attention turned to the next goal: Winning again, hopefully a little faster than than this one took.
"It feels good to win, and I'll enjoy it, and in a day or two, I'll be thirsty for the next one."

Father's Day win

With his famous father, many would think Jr's dad was on his mind as he drove to victory Sunday at MIS. Actually, that wasn't so much the case.

"As much as that would be a good story, I had not really thought about much even being Father's Day and I wished a lot of opportunities to wish everybody a happy Father's Day. It just slipped my mind pretty much. But it is Father's Day," Jr. said. "So I'm happy for that fact due to the circumstances and it makes it mean a little bit more to have won on Father's Day, and you know, get the opportunity to just come here and sit down and wish everybody a happy Father's Day."

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