Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have found missing piece to solving Sprint Cup championship puzzle

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For Dale Earnhardt Jr. to become a true championship threat, critics have said for a number of years that he’d have to learn how to master 1.5-mile tracks – particularly since five of the 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races are on tracks of that distance.

If what he’s done thus far this season is any indication – including his showing in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway – we may very well start anointing Earnhardt as indeed a true championship threat this season.

In five 1.5-mile races thus far this season, Earnhardt has now recorded three top-fives, including Saturday’s fifth-place finish.

Even better, Earnhardt has recorded a win, three top-fives and two other top-10s in his last seven starts.

It was a true team effort to get Junior that kind of finish, particularly since he started 27th.

“The pit crew did an amazing job tonight,” Earnhardt told TNT after the race. “They were gaining me a number of spots for me every stop.

“Even when we were taking four tires, we were beating a lot of guys off pit road. They’re a great group and deserve a lot of credit.”

Much like the first top-10 finish of his career last week at Sonoma, Earnhardt was a bit surprised at his finish at Kentucky (although he did earn a fourth-place showing there in 2012).

“It was way better today, a lot more fun to drive,” Earnhardt said. “This place is a bit of a handful for me. I don’t know if I have it figured out just yet. I don’t really know exactly what I’m looking for and how I need the car to drive.

“Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte)  and the guys did a good job having to deal with me and putting a good car under me this weekend. It was a lot of fun in the race. Strategy was great in the race. Steve’s fuel strategy gave us a lot of good track position.”

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