Dale Earnhardt Jr. must be breathing a huge sigh of relief heading into this week’s 3M Performance 400. Finally, he’s returning to a track he likes… a track he won at earlier this year.
Make no mistake about it, Jr. cannot enter this weekend’s race care-free. He’s got a lot of pressure on him right now to perform. Every year, Jr. has to come to the same stretch of tracks that he’s not a particular fan of: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, and Watkins Glen International.
This not to say he hates these tracks. He just doesn’t run particularly well at them. Since 2004, Jr. only has thee top fives during this three-race stretch. He finished second at Pocono in 2007 and sixth at the Brickyard in 2006, and fifth at the Glen in 2004.
He did lead some laps at Watkins Glen last weekend before pit strategy bit him, but overall, these are not his strongest tracks. He’s dropped from second in the standings to fourth.
As the series heads into Michigan, Jr. looks to rebound as he has in year’s passed. He’s won at three of the next four tracks and looks to work his way out of his slump. And, this weekend could be just what Jr. needs to gain some momentum heading into the Chase.
At this point, there are about 16 guys vying for 11 spots, so Jr. needs to get back to form, or he could risk starting the Chase with a huge deficit, or falling out of the Chase entirely.