NASCAR & Auto Racing

Earnhardt Jr. making most of opportunity, shooting for title

Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick Motorsports in the hope that it would give him a better chance to win races and championships.

So far, the decision to leave family owned Dale Earnhardt Inc. has produced one race victory and a shot at a championship. Junior will begin his drive for that first Sprint Cup title on Sunday, when NASCAR's postseason gets under way at New Hampshire.

The fan favorite will begin the 12-man Chase for the championship tied for fourth with three other drivers, all of whom start the 10-race playoff 70 points behind series leader Kyle Busch. But Earnhardt Jr., who failed to qualify for last year's Chase, is feeling confident and ready and has some very big goals for the next 2½ months of racing.

"Win as many races as I can, and win the championship," Earnhardt Jr. said when asked what those goals are. "I'd love to win the championship walking away - you know, go into (the finale at) Homestead with it clinched already."

So what's the plan to make that happen in his ninth full season of Cup racing?

"I don't think there is such a thing as having a game plan in racing," he said. "You try to strategize, but really that evolves throughout the race."

A good start would be very helpful, though.

In 18 Cup starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has recorded four top-five finishes and seven top-10s. He has led 272 laps, including 29 in the June race, on the flat 1.058-mile oval. But he has never finished better than third at the Loudon track.

Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are also in the Chase. Johnson, coming off two straight victories, is one of the favorites as he tries to win a record-tying third straight title. Gordon is winless in 2008, but owns four championships and leads active drivers with 81 career victories.

Earnhardt Jr. said he plans to listen to the two veterans as they all head into the Chase.

"Well, I'm hoping to lean on them when I can to improve our car's ability and performance," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You know, to take advantage of their experience and their success of the past couple years and this company's success.

"That's really why I'm here to begin with, just making the most out of that opportunity. I'd rather have them on my side where I can lean on them and know a little bit about what they've got going on and what they're doing and what's working for them."