LAS VEGAS – Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, has had a strong start to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. After finishing 10th at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend, Earnhardt enters Las Vegas Motor Speedway ranked just 25 points behind the leader.
In Earnhardt’s previous 11 starts at Las Vegas he has scored two top-five finishes, four top-10s and led 162 laps. Among active drivers, Earnhardt ranks seventh in laps led. His career-best result happened in 2003 and 2008, when he took runner-up honors both years at the track.
This Sunday’s KOBALT Tools 400, which will be televised on FOX starting at 2:30 p.m. ET, will mark Earnhardt’s 12th Cup start at the 1.5-mile oval. It also will be the first time crew chief Steve Letarte and Earnhardt have worked together in Las Vegas, and Letarte is looking to keep the duo’s momentum going.
“Dale is a remarkable talent,” Letarte said. “I think our communication has worked very, very well.”
Earnhardt enjoys the fast banking that Vegas offers, and he has experience handling intermediate tracks like Las Vegas. In 193 Cup starts on one- to two-mile tracks, Earnhardt has recorded six wins, six pole positions, 38 top-five finishes and 71 top-10s.
“On all of these mile-and-a-half tracks, it comes down to who can hold the throttle down the longest through the corner and make the straightaways as long as you can,” Earnhardt said. “Because everyone has good horsepower.”
For Sunday, Letarte and the No. 88 team will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-617, which Jeff Gordon previously raced to an 11th-place finish at Dover (Del.) International Speedway last September. Earnhardt averages a 9.33 finish and a 14.3 starting spot behind the wheel of the National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet during the last three Cup events at the track.