Despite consecutive runs of tenth and eleventh at Las Vegas and Atlanta, Dale Earnhardt Jr is still far from satisfied with his performance and that of his #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team this season.
The green-and-white AMP Energy machine was never a factor in the Kobalt Tools 500, twice having to rely on 'lucky dog' passes to regain the lead lap, before Earnhardt held on to finish just outside the top ten after a late restart.
“We are doing about as miserable as we can do without being too upset about it,” he said, “You know, I mean, I would like to run better than that. We struggled all day -- we just can't struggle. We handled really poorly, fought all day long and didn't really make it better. We could get it okay - we tried to go in a lot of directions and could do it.
“I look at my team-mates, and they are running better. We should run the way they run, so it's frustrating for me and the team. The only thing you can do is keep working and show up next week with a new attitude.”
Asked whether he felt the new tyre provided by Goodyear for the slick Atlanta surface may have played a part in his struggles, Earnhardt admitted that he had his doubts.
''They need to go back to the drawing board I guess,'' he reflected, ''I don't know, I ain't no tyre engineer but, I mean, we have good success at a lot of tracks. We struggled to get the tyre to match the car at a lot of tracks. The CoT has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, all the teams are trying to figure the car out and engineers at Goodyear are trying the car. It is a real challenge for the sport, which has come at a tough time you know, the economy being the way it is.
''We just have to try and figure it out. I've got a lot of confidence in Goodyear that they will figure it out. If this is as good as it is, this is as good as it is. I had fun. It was fun. I would have liked to have run better. But that is not the tyres' fault, that is our fault.''
To Earnhardt, the first off-week in the Cup schedule falls at the right time. The series won't race again until 22 March at Bristol, and the veteran is grateful for the chance to regroup.
''This weekend off will be good for everybody,” he admitted, “We are repairing some damage we did early in the season - the first couple of races with these finishes [of (27th at Daytona and 39th at California], but running eleventh and struggling all day doesn't really do much for your confidence.”
by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service