His last-lap efforts to win a second Daytona 500 may have fallen short, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. still got his season off on the right foot.
A second-place finish in the season-opening race has him, of course, second in the Sprint Cup standings at five markers behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate and Daytona winner Jimmie Johnson. With Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway looming, he also won’t have to worry about the unappetizing prospect of starting the 2013 campaign with two bad races in a row.
“I think it’s important to get a good start points-wise,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the ‘500.’ “It’s important to put a good foundation of points together. If you get behind early, it seems like you’re still chasing that [Chase for the Sprint Cup] spot at Richmond. It’s good to get a good start, get a couple points on some guys.
“We’re a good team. Hopefully, we can keep the pressure on them and stay up in the top five in the points and win some races. I want to really try to win some more races this year. That’s our focus.”
Earnhardt Jr. has won twice at PIR in his career (2003 and 2004), but his fortunes in the Valley of the Sun have varied since then with him collecting just one top-10 finish in his last eight races at Phoenix.
That said, a solid result this weekend will have him sitting in a pretty good spot early on in the championship – and while the Earnhardt Nation would’ve loved to have seen their guy hoist the Harley J. Earl Trophy last weekend, you know they’ll gladly celebrate a Sprint Cup title for Driver #88 as well.