Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a good 2011 season, he made it through to the Chase and finished seventh, all of this without a single win. In 2012 he is looking to change that and put an end to his 129 race winless streak.
Two times last year he came agonisingly close to winning, first in April at Martinsville he was leading with four laps to go, lady luck was not with Junior that day as Kevin Harvick took the chequered flag.
Running out of fuel would prove even more frustrating as he led the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Harvick again would take the win as Earnhardt Jr. slipped back to finish in seventh
These two moments would frustrate the best drivers but the #88 driver is looking to use these moments to help his mind-set for the season ahead.
“That was an 'up' side because we hadn't come that close to winning races before,” he said. “Whether it was our strong performance or Steve's (Letarte – Crew Chief) strategy, he's given me the chance I didn't have. I feel closer to winning than I felt before.”
Rather than dwelling on the aforementioned close but not close enough moments Earnhardt Jr. is looking to move on.
“It doesn't matter how close you were; we didn't win,” he said. “Last year's over. I have the stat sheet. That [win] column has a zero. It doesn't matter if we were leading off turn four at the 600 or not, it's still a zero.
“I'm proud of leading off turn four. I'm proud of almost winning a race. But to hang our hat on that is absolutely a waste of time. That day is over, and there wasn't a trophy at the end of it.”
Earnhardt Jr. praised Letarte after he suggested Junior changed his approach to race weekends.
“He had me filling out forms and giving him information about the car after the races,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I was sitting in on the discussions about the car in the garage area. As soon as I got to the truck in the morning, I never left the garage area until the day was over. I never did that [previously] in my career. I always went back to the bus between practices. And I was never there early.”
“I don't think I was realizing my full potential. I think he made me understand those things that I thought were trivial are important to him and his ability to do his job.”
“He deserves a lot of credit,” Junior said. “This is a tough gig for him, and he's done well with it. The guy he was last year was perfect. The more of that, the better.”
That must change, Letarte added: “We were the only team in the Chase with a zero in that column, I'm proud to say that because we were in the Chase. We had a very, very good year last year. We want to have a great year this year. The only way to do that is if that column doesn't have a zero.”