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Luck, strategy key combination for Earnhardt at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. – When it comes to racing the high-banked .533-mile oval of Bristol Motor Speedway, skill often is only part of the equation for success. Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, admits the rest involves sheer luck.

In his last 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at the Tennessee short track, Earnhardt has finished 11th or better 14 times. He went to Victory Lane there in August 2004 after climbing from his 30th-place starting position. Luck, Earnhardt believes, sometimes can make all the difference at a track where there isn’t much room to escape an incident.

“Luck can play a big part at Bristol for the simple fact that you can have a great car and that you can come up on something at any time,” said Earnhardt, who leads all drivers in the last 12 races at Bristol with an 11.5 average finish. “It’s a matter of being at the right place at the right time, being lucky and missing the big wreck.”

Luck aside, Earnhardt and his crew chief Steve Letarte also recognize the benefits of a good qualifying run at the Speedway.  Earning a top starting spot doesn’t just help pit stall selection; it also affects race strategy.

“Bristol and Martinsville (Va.) are the two tightest tracks we run on,” Letarte said. “Qualifying well at Bristol is very important. It takes a lot of pressure off the start of the race. For a short track, it’s been known to run under the green flag for a long time. The leaders come pretty fast at Bristol so it’s important to start towards the front.”

Three races into the season, Earnhardt has earned two top-10 finishes, one pole position, and ranks 10th in the points standing. Coverage of the Cup event begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the race starts at 1 p.m.

In addition to his duties behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup Series, Earnhardt will pilot JR Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race. In nine Nationwide starts at Bristol, Earnhardt has one win, two pole positions, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s. This marks Earnhardt’s second Nationwide Series start this season. Most recently, he drove the No. 5 Chevrolet to fourth-place finish in the Nationwide event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last month.

Pre-race coverage of the Nationwide race on Saturday beings at 1 p.m. on ESPN, and the race starts at 2 p.m.

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