Dale Earnhardt. Jr. is tired of finishing second.
After winning the NASCAR season-opening race once a decade ago, a follow-up win has eluded Earnhardt as he turned in second place finishes in three of the last four Daytona 500 races.
In a media session this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he is looking to be in the lead and in command this Sunday as he finally tries to break through for a second win.
“As far as trying to win one of these races, or not run second again, I think we need to be up front,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “We’re not far enough toward the front. When we’ve run second, we’ve come from third or fourth or fifth or sixth those last few laps.
“You’re not going to win the race from back there. You might run second, but you aren’t going to win. You need to be leading the race. I would much rather be leading the Daytona 500 inside of five laps to go than be anywhere else.”
While Earnhardt looks for an elusive second Daytona 500 win, the race takes on a greater meaning for his family. Pole winner Austin Dillon of Earnhardt-Childress Racing is set to bring the No. 3 car to the race for the first time since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001.
Richard Childress had refused to field the number since Earnhardt’s accident, but allowed his 23-year-old grandson to use it after he took the top spot in the race with a lap at 196.019 mph at the season opener.
“The 3 is special to all of us; the family, the Earnhardt family, to every one of us,” Childress said. “But I think it’s special because Austin, our family is in the car. The emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there on Sunday. I won’t hold it back, I promise.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the seventh-fastest time in Sunday’s qualifying, but few are considering him a contender for the Daytona 500. There could be a good reason — Earnhardt hasn’t won a Sprint Cup event at Daytona or Talladega since 2004.