Speeding to Speedweek: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. (WVLT) -- Success and popularity go hand in hand.

For instance, the NFL's Dallas Cowboys have a national fan base. The Arizona Cardinals do not.

The Yankees do. The Mariners do not.

When it comes to NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Junior bucks that trend. Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won a Sprint Cup race in three years, but that hasn't slowed down his popularity. Junior has captured NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award nine years a in row.

Earnhardt Junior has the fame, whether he wants it or not.

"It is kind of weird, being popular. I was never that popular in high school," Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently told WVLT at the annual Sprint Cup Media Tour in Charlotte.

"It's something I'm over whelmed with. It's something I'm still not use too and not comfortable with at at times, but the fans are great. They are loyal.

Loyal? Yes, but Earnhardt Nation hasn't had too much to celebrate lately. Junior hasn't won in the last 129 cup races. His last trip to victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series was June 15, 2008 at Michigan.

After a respectable seventh place finish in the final standings last year, the driver of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports car believes a win is in sight.

"I feel closer to winning races," Earnhardt told a room full of reporters."

"I feel like the potential is there is make that happen which is a good feeling. It gives me a lot of confidence and this year is the year we could get it done.

Earnhardt calls the drought "difficult," saying he doesn't feel he's delivered to his fans. While those fans might ask, 'Junior, when are you gonna win again?' that's not a question you'll hear from his boss.

"I don't think there's any reason to talk about it," Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports said. "He knows there's been a streak. Junior was a quart of gas away from winning last year. He had a couple of other situations that cost him. If you just show up and be competitive, you'll win your share. I think that's gonna happen for him this year."

Earnhardt Jr. has 18 career Sprint Cup wins on his resume. 2012 will be his thirteenth full season in the NASCAR's top division.


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