You could say Dale Earnhardt Jr. has some catching up to do.
He’s winless at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne boast a combined 15 victories.
The track hasn’t spun Junior out. But he hasn’t quite conquered the 1.5-mile layout either.
Earnhardt’s record is so-so: five top fives and 11 top 10s in 26 races. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt has fashioned a trio of top-10 finishes, including a sixth in last year’s Coca-Cola 600. He nearly won the race in 2011, losing the lead to Kevin Harvick after his fuel cell ran dry during a green-white-checkered finish.
Earnhardt’s Charlotte statistics aren’t stellar: Driver Rating of 78.8 (18th-best); Average Finish of 18.8; Average Running Position of 20.2 (25th-best) and 487 Quality Passes (17th-most).
Yet if the season to date is any indication, this could be the May that Earnhardt finally busts open the gates to Charlotte’s Victory Lane.
Earnhardt has finished second twice, at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway, and led the points standings. Fourth in current points, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet hasn’t ranked outside the top five this season. He finished seventh in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Fifteen seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has taught Earnhardt patience – a huge asset in approaching the four-plus hour Coca-Cola 600.
“I think the older you get the smarter you become, and the better you are at making decisions and understanding what are the battles you need to fight and what battles aren’t battles you need to be in the middle of,” Earnhardt said a week ago.