Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Kobalt Tools 400: Dale Earnhardt Jr Race Preview

News & Notes
AT LAS VEGAS: In 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has scored two top-five finishes, five top-10s and has led 162 laps. He has a ninth-place average finish behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during the last four Cup events at the track. Earnhardt matched his career-best result there with a runner-up finish in 2008. Earnhardt originally earned second place at the track in 2003.

LAS VEGAS STATS: Among active drivers, Earnhardt ranks seventh in the laps led category with 162 total at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet is tied for 10th with two top-five finishes and is tied for sixth with five top-10s among active drivers at the 1.5-mile racetrack.

POINTS REPORT: Earnhardt currently ranks fifth in the Sprint Cup driver standings after finishing 14th last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. He trails leader Denny Hamlin by 17 points.

CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-668. Earnhardt most recently raced this car to an 11th–place finish in the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.

INTERMEDIATE TRACK STATS: In 211 Cup starts on intermediate (one- to two-mile) tracks, Earnhardt has recorded six wins, six pole positions, 40 top-five finishes and 77 top-10s.

HENDRICK AT LAS VEGAS: In 13 events (54 starts) at Las Vegas, Hendrick Motorsports has scored five wins, 14 top-five finishes, 21 top-10s and has led 830 laps at the 1.5-mile racetrack. Jimmie Johnson, who owns four of the team’s wins, most recently went to Victory Lane there in February 2010.

INTERMEDIATE POWER: When it comes to competing at 1.5-mile racetracks, Hendrick Motorsports headlines the win, top-five finish and top-10 categories. Johnson’s 13 wins are the most all-time by a driver at 1.5-mile tracks, while Jeff Gordon has the most top-five finishes (49) and top-10s (64).  Johnson needs to gain 47 laps on Tony Stewart to become the all-time lap leader at 1.5-mile tracks. Stewart ranks first in laps led with 2,811 laps.

MILESTONE MEMORY: On March 11, 2007, Hendrick Motorsports earned its 150th Cup win after Johnson drove his No. 48 Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Las Vegas. Johnson started 23rd that day and led 89 laps on his way to the milestone win.

APPROACHING 200: With Johnson’s win Oct. 9, 2011, at Kansas Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 199 Cup victories. The organization ranks first in NASCAR’s modern era for wins and second all-time behind Petty Enterprises, which has 268 victories.

“We ran good at Vegas last year and did well on the intermediate tracks so we feel pretty good going in. The team definitely wants to go there and put on a good run. I like the racetrack, I like racing there, and it’s a good area, too. It’s a fast track and has a lot of bumps, but it’s a fun track.”

“To go to Phoenix and win would have been great, but to run top-10, top-15 was our goal. We ran 14th. So, I feel that while we didn’t have the finish and we’re not happy about the 14th, there were a lot of positives. I think Dale (Earnhardt Jr., driver) did a great job staying calm the whole race, I think we put a good solid race together. We worked a pit strategy for the car we had. We didn’t throw darts at something that didn’t exist, and when the guys ran out of fuel we were fortunate enough to capitalize.”

“Las Vegas is an exciting place to go to. This season is made up of mile-and-a-half tracks, and it’s an area we put a tremendous amount of effort last year. Las Vegas is one of the races that really catapulted our season. We went out there, and we didn’t run great, but we ran solidly in the top 10, which gave the No. 88 team momentum last year that we can compete with the guys that are winning races. We feel that right now, and we’re excited to get to Las Vegas and showcase the equipment we’ve been working on. We had some good speed at Homestead (Fla.) last year so we’re looking to carry a lot of that momentum to Las Vegas.”

LETARTE (ON THE CHALLENGES OF LAS VEGAS.): “Las Vegas has a lot of unknowns. The unique part of Las Vegas is Turns 1 and 2 are a little bumpy at the bottom, but the top is a little bit smoother. It’s very hard to get through there consistently and be good in (Turns) 3 and 4. Traffic is usually very tight in Las Vegas and the wind can be a factor there so you have a lot of things that play into it. It’s a hard place because you only go there once a year so your notes are from a long time ago. It’s a track everyone has circled on their calendars because it’s the first mile-and-a-half, and everyone wants to go there and run well.
“We have good history there because (team owner) Mr. (Rick) Hendrick affords us great parts and pieces. I believe when you go to the mile-and-a-half tracks your aerodynamic advantage shines, the horsepower shines. I don’t feel we run badly at the short tracks, but I feel the tools, equipment and support Mr. Hendrick and Chevrolet give us to go out and do our jobs really shines when go to the bigger tracks. Horsepower advantage doesn’t show at Bristol (Tenn.). Aerodynamic advantage doesn’t show at Martinsville (Va.). He affords us the ability to build the best equipment in the garage and when you have the best equipment, it shines.”