DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished in second place at the Daytona 500 three times in the past four years and hasn’t won a restrictor-plate race for 10 years, but he’s confident that will all change in the 2014 Sprint Cup series.
“Let's be honest, where I am as a driver I feel like I'm on the verge of breaking through and having possibly one of my best seasons,” Earnhardt said during the NASCAR media tour, Trib Live reported.
Earnhardt finished fifth in points in 2013 and placed second five times last season.
“We ran second a lot last year, and that felt great,” said Earnhardt.
“It was a statement to us that what we're doing is working. Maybe, this is the year we turn the corner. It doesn't wear on me mentally, but it motivates and ticks me off. When you see videos of last year, I see everyone else (Hendrick Motorsports teammates) in those videos holding trophies and celebrating wins. The only shots of me are those of me walking around pit road.”
Crew chief Steve Letarte agrees with the 39-year-old’s assertion that he can turn things around this year even though he hasn’t won a race since June 2012 at Michigan International Speedway.
“By no doing of his own, Junior has a persona that's bigger than any one person you can ever meet,” Letarte said. “No one can live up to what the fans want him to be. He loves the sport, and he wants to win every week. It's surprising that a guy that good hasn't won at Daytona in 10 years. But I can think of some of the close runs we've had. If he continues to put himself in position, then he'll break through.”
Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 2013 after holding off Earnhardt on the final lap.
“Maybe, the stars are aligned and fate is on our side,” Earnhardt said. “With the trajectory our team has had, we are peaking at the right time to compete for a championship. I never felt -- even when they changed the Chase the first time -- that they would change the format the way you wanted.”