The winless streak continues, but so does Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s persistence.
He doesn’t go away.
In fact, he rises. With a third-place run in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. jumped three places in Sprint Cup points to third, trailing only Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick as the tour moves on to Martinsville Speedway this weekend.
Despite being frustrated by a winless run that now is at a startling 134 races, Earnhardt Jr. continues to keep himself in the mix on the front lines of the sport.
“I'm really happy,” he said. “I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte) and the team.
“Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive.”
It shows in the results. Earnhardt Jr.’s worst finish in five races is a 15th at Bristol, and he has two top fives and three top 10s.
And he sees the big light at the end of the tunnel.
“I like how our season is going so far,” he said. “If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal, eventually.”
Could it happen at Martinsville? Maybe. Although Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won at the circuit’s shortest track, he has an excellent worksheet there, having scored nine top fives, 13 top 10s and an average finish of 13.0 at a place where winning is particularly prized.
“I look forward going to Martinsville,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It's a pretty fun track.
“We've had some good success there. I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.”
Junior finished second to Harvick last spring at Martinsville, losing the lead to his fellow Chevrolet driver four laps from the finish. Junior was seventh at Martinsville last fall.
Practice for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Friday. Qualifying is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Both practice sessions and the time trials will be televised by SPEED.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.