Earlier this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stated that with the championship picture as it is, he was ready to focus on winning races. He got off to a good start on his goal as he won the pole for the AAA 400 with a lap of 161.849 mph for a new track record.
“The car had really good speed and a really good balance right off the trailer,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “Felt like we were really competitive, more so than we had been here in the past, especially in practice. When we put the car into qualifying trim, made a couple of mock runs, the car showed again really good speed. ”
Earnhardt added that he thought they had a good enough car to qualify in the top 10, but not a pole winning car.
The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet comes into Dover International Speedway sitting 11th in points, 62 points behind Matt Kenseth. He has admitted that he doesn’t see their chances at winning the championship being that strong due to how Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have ran. However, he also added that with eight races left, anything can happen.
“We are not really going to count points and I’m not going to sit here and figure out how far I’m behind and come up with some equation that I need to perfect to gain points each week,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “I’m not going to sit here and do that. We are just going to show up and try to run hard and be smart. If we can unload great cars like this it makes that all easier.”
He also added that he will be disappointed if he finishes the year without winning a race because he feels the team has gotten stronger than they were last year.
With his second pole of the season, it marks the first time since 2002 that Earnhardt Jr. has won more than one pole in a season. He attributes that to crew chief Steve LeTarte focusing on qualifying during the opening practice of the weekend.
“We continue to put importance on that and try to improve on that,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “The racing and the cars and the speed the cars have in the races has also improved. We really focused on qualifying last year and even more so this year.
“He and I are working better together. The longer we work together the better we get at it and the more we understand each other and the more he understands what I need in the car. We have also kept the majority of the team intact from the beginning. That is so important to keep that together if you can because everybody sort of learns what they can about each other.”
Points leader Matt Kenseth had the second quickest lap as he looks for his third straight win.
“This Home Depot ‘Let’s Do This’ Camry has been really fast all day,” Kenseth said. “Has had a lot of speed, been a lot of fun to drive. You feel like, especially with me driving the car, we don’t get that many chances at the pole so I hate that we missed it by that little bit. I probably steered Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) wrong a little bit and warmed up a little and just got too free. Anyway, excited about my car.”
Kenseth started off the Chase, winning the first two races at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway. As a result, he currently sits 14 points ahead of Kyle Busch.
Fresh off announcing that Quickens Loans will follow him to Richard Childress Racing in 2014, Ryan Newman qualified third as he currently sits ninth in the Chase standings.
Carl Edwards, who sits fourth in points, qualified fourth on track with Aric Almirola rounding out the top five.
2012 Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski qualified sixth followed by Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch, who currently sits second in points, qualified 14th.
The Sprint Cup Series drivers will have another chance to tune on their cars tomorrow with two practice sessions, before the AAA 400 on Sunday.