FONTANA, Calif. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte are ready to tackle potential handling issues when they unload their No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
“It’s the biggest short track we run,” Letarte said. “The track is extremely slick. To be a two-mile track, grip is of an absolute premium. It’s a hard place to get ahold of because you can’t put the high-grip package in because you need to be concerned about aerodynamics. It’s probably the hardest track there is to balance aerodynamics versus mechanical grip.”
Out of 194 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts on intermediate (one- to two-mile) tracks, Earnhardt has recorded six wins, 38 top-five finishes and 72 top-10s. But the driver of the No. 88 Chevy still is looking for his first trip to Victory Lane in the 400-mile event in southern California. At Auto Club Speedway, Earnhardt has earned three top-five finishes and four top-10s in 18 starts.
“California is a track I need to run better at,” Earnhardt said. “One of the biggest challenges there is that the track is flat and doesn’t have a ton of grip. Basically, you have to keep a really good aero platform and keep the car from getting too free off the corners. That’s been one of our biggest challenges in the past. Hopefully, this weekend will give us a chance to try to improve on what we’re doing. Steve (Letarte) and the guys are working really hard. I’m excited to see what we can do out there.”
Letarte plans to keep the same strategy he’s had all season for this weekend’s 200-lap race -- qualify well and run in the top-15. Letarte and Earnhardt also are factoring in another important aspect of racing -- teamwork.
“We have three really, really good teammates here,” Letarte said. “Jimmie (Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) runs good there and Jeff (Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet) has a lot of consistency out there, and Mark (Martin, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet) run well there. So we’ll lean on all our teammates to make sure we have good direction heading in to each practice.”
Pre-race coverage of Sunday’s Cup event begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, and the race starts at 3 p.m.