With his fourth place finish at the Brickyard 400 Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. officially took over the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead for the first time in nearly a decade.
“I’m proud of that because it says a lot about our body of work,” Earnhardt said following the race. “All season long we’ve been working hard and finishing well.
Earnhardt, who trailed Matt Kenseth by 16 points entering the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, capitalized on the misfortune of Kenseth, who finished 35th after a crash.
Although he was a bit disappointed about not winning the race, Earnhardt was still pleased at his performance as well as watching teammate Jimmie Johnson go to victory lane.
“We were looking forward to this race,” he said. “Wanted to run well here. Want to win this race. Want to get a trophy here and go to victory lane. One of our teammates was able to do that so we are proud for the company. We’re happy with a finish. We want to win races; we want more. We are ready to start seeing a little bit more materialize for us. We’re really happy with what we are doing. Trying to keep our minds focused on what is working for us. Try to figure it out.”
Sports Illustrated writes that before Sunday, Earnhardt hadn’t led the points since October 2004, after winning at Talladega. Two days later, a 25-point penalty for cursing during a TV interview cost him a lead he would not regain for nearly eight years.
Prior to Earnhardt’s fourth-place finish and the updated Cup standings, Dale’s sister, Kelley, had said that her brother is as confident as he was in 2003-04 when he scored eight of his 19 Cup victories. She credits Dale’s crew chief Steve Letarte.
“He’s just an easygoing guy and that’s what Dale needs,” Kelley Earnhardt-Miller said, adding that Letarte’s impact has created a new driver in her brother.
“Working out or eating better or trying to condition himself a little differently. The accountability that Steve places on him in the meetings and the things they do at the racetrack. Those are all different for Dale.”
ESPN’s Ricky Craven gives his take on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s jump to the lead of the Sprint Cup point standings in the video below: