LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted this week that he had become a fan of the cult series “The Walking Dead.”
Fitting, perhaps, because Earnhardt has found nothing but dead ends as he tries to race into victory lane for the first time in 2016.
Earnhardt is winless for the season through 13 races, and his recent swoon has him hoping he can dig out of his slump at Pocono Raceway. Earnhardt’s late-career renaissance in the No. 88 Chevrolet really took off at Pocono in 2014 when he swept both races.
Back at the tri-oval track, Earnhardt starts eighth in Sunday’s race.
He won seven Sprint Cup races in 2014-15 and does have three runner-up finishes this season. But over the last five races, Earnhardt has been pedestrian with no finish better than 13th and two at 32nd or worse.
Long NASCAR’s most popular driver, Earnhardt said he wasn’t worried yet his winless streak. He would clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a victory. He already had a spot secured at the point in the season each of the last two years. Earnhardt is 13th in the points standings, and the top 16 make the Chase field. He wasn’t won since Phoenix in November 2015.
“At 41 years old you kind of get over that stuff,” he said. “I spent the first 18 years worrying myself to death. I think we are a good enough team to make it whether we get a win or not. We are a good enough team. That is not a guarantee, I just feel confident that we will get in.”
So what’s wrong with his Hendrick Motorsports team?
Earnhardt said there were no easy answers, though more open communication in the car with crew chief Greg Ives would help.
“I can really bug him to death and pick his brain and try to be as knowledgeable about the car as he,” Earnhardt said. “So while we are out there on the race track and I’m driving it and I’m feeling something I can kind of think to the setup and give him some direction on the setup aside from his own ideas and plans that he has had over the week.”
Earnhardt hasn’t spent much time out front in the clean air all season. He’s led just 49 laps all season (and led in just two races) and hasn’t been in the lead at any point over the last nine. Earnhardt also crashed out at Talladega and Dover.
Joe Gibbs Racing has again stamped itself the class of series this season and has won six of the last nine races and Team Penske has two victories. Martin Truex Jr., coming off a dominating victory in the Coca-Cola 600, crashed the winner’s field for Furniture Row Racing. FRR, though, has an alliance with JGR is considered almost like a fifth team.
Hendrick hasn’t won a race since Jimmie Johnson in late March.
“I don’t doubt that Hendrick Motorsports will be as strong as they want to be at some point in this season,” Earnhardt said. “I feel pretty confident that we will be fine in the Chase. I look at the year Brad Keselowski won the championship, Hendrick cars were really good all year long. Brad and his team worked all year to try and find what advantage we had and they found it. They took that idea in house and made it their own and made it better.”
Earnhardt would like to find that winning formula and keep it in his house.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion has never won a Cup championship, the lone void in a career that has made him a surefire NASCAR Hall of Famer.
“It’s been a rough month, but I think we can turn it around here,” he said. “I think we should run great here. I’m not so much worried about end of the race results. I’m more concerned with consistent speed in the car and running up front throughout the day and having consistency on pit road and in the race car.”