BROOKLYN, Mich. — A year ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally snapped his long losing streak. He left Michigan International Speedway with hopes of more victories to come – maybe even a Sprint Cup championship.
He hasn’t won since.
“We want to win more races. We want to win numerous races and multiple races in a season,” Earnhardt said. “We want that to be the norm. We want that to be what is expected. When we first started working together we were trying to figure out how to get a 15th-place combination into the top 10 and we were happy when we did.
“Now when we run in the top 10 it’s just another weekend – and what do we have to do to win?”
Whenever NASCAR’s top series comes to Michigan, Earnhardt is at the center of attention. He won at MIS last June after 143 races without a victory. His most recent win before that was also at Michigan in 2008, so the Sprint Cup’s twice-yearly visits to the Irish Hills always seem to present an opportunity for Earnhardt and his No. 88 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt’s victory last year wasn’t a shock. He’d been running well for a while, working his way back among NASCAR’s elite drivers, so after a convincing performance at MIS, stock-car racing’s most popular driver could credibly eye a run at a series championship.
But concussion problems derailed his chances in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and although he began 2013 with five straight top-10 finishes and briefly led the points standings, he’s slipped to fourth since then.
Earnhardt took a step in the right direction with a third-place showing at Pocono last weekend, but the pressure is mounting for him to take advantage of a return to Michigan.
“It’s just a simple race track that has not got a lot of challenges. It’s very easily laid out and understandable for a driver. It really comes down to just getting your car to work,” Earnhardt said. “There are no bumps or bad transitions, there is nothing really that you are out there fighting or worried about or dreading. It’s just a simple race track and very wide.”
NATIONWIDE SERIES: Points leader Regan Smith won the race at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday, holding off Kyle Larson in the final 10 laps.
It was Smith’s second win of the year and 11th top-10 finish in 13 starts. Paul Menard was third, followed by Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne.
INDYCAR SERIES: In West Allis, Wis., Ryan Hunter-Reay continued Andretti Autosport’s domination at the Milwaukee Mile, winning the race for the second year in a row.
Hunter-Reay became the first driver to win back-to-back races at the Mile since Tony Kanaan in 2006 and 2007 when he was driving for Andretti.
Andretti drivers have won five of the last nine races at the mile oval.
It’s the second win of the season for the defending IndyCar Series champion and it came at the site of the track he used to jumpstart last year’s title run. Hunter-Reay reeled off three consecutive wins starting with Milwaukee last season to climb into the championship race.
Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves was second, and teammate Will Power finished third.