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Posted: Friday, June 13th 2014 at 8:00am

NASCAR Preview: Wins Earn Earnhardt Another Round Of Respect

By NASCAR Media
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Dale Earnhardt, Jr. celebrates with the checkered flag after winning last week's Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. / Photo: NASCAR Via Getty Images
BROOKLYN, MI - Consider this:

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. … finally, a contender.

Ok, granted, he has made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup before, with some fine finishes (third once, fifth three times) in the final series championship standings. But there’s something different about this year, right? Considered for so long by so many as a champion-in-waiting, Earnhardt looks to be assuming the aura of a champion-on-deck.

What a road he has traveled to this spot – two victories in a season for the first time since 2004 and all but assured of making the newly expanded Chase field because of those wins. After years of spotlighted scrutiny and periodic victory droughts that left his legion of fans disappointed, Earnhardt may be ready to deliver a long-awaited, long-expected title in NASCAR’s premier series – or at the very least, come awfully close to doing so.

Earnhardt’s victory at Pocono Raceway this past Sunday sparked a litany of statistics that, collectively, seem hard to believe: First multi-win season in a decade; same number of wins as the previous seven seasons combined; first win at Pocono in 29 starts.

More important than any of those is this: Now with two victories, Earnhardt is guaranteed to be among the top 16 race winners – the most difficult criteria to meet in landing a spot in the Chase. As long as he finishes in the top 30 in driver points after race No. 26 and attempts to qualify for every race, he’s locked into NASCAR’s “playoffs.”

Years ago, race victories, Chase berths and a series championship or three all were predicted to come routinely to a young man with two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships and the consummate NASCAR family heritage, the heir apparent to his late father, seven-time Sprint Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.

That once-bright future, which once was considered derailed by critics – of which there were many, despite Earnhardt’s immense popularity overall – seemingly was only being delayed.

That future is now. Dale Jr. could be approaching a “Sr.” moment

“It’s elusive, man,” Earnhardt said at Pocono, regarding Sprint Cup success. “I don't worry about (being criticized) as much anymore. I'm turning 40 this year, and the ‘over-rated’ talk is way behind me. That used to bother me when I was younger, but when you get old you don't really care anymore about those kind of things. … I feel like I'm such a lucky guy to have this second opportunity almost to be competitive again, and so I don't really worry about the detractors.”

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 from Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI beginning at Noon on 102.9 FM and at 1 pm on 550 AM.

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Smith, Elliott On Tap To Capture JR Motorsport’s Elusive First Title

Hard to imagine, especially when you hear it for the first time, but JR Motorsports has yet to win a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

At first thought, “That can’t be right.”

Notables like Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick, Mark Martin, Cole Whitt and many others have driven for car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., but all have fallen short of the elusive championship title. Still, all that might change come November. JR Motorsports’ full-time series drivers are in championship form this season, as veteran Regan Smith and Sunoco Rookie standout Chase Elliott have combined to lead the standings the entire 2014 season. So, title guaranteed, right? Not so fast.

Smith, the defending Michigan winner and current series standings leader, is staring at the same conundrum he faced in 2013. He heads to Michigan, the first of a grueling 18-race stretch of the schedule. This time last season, he won, but followed it up with two finishes of 30th or worse at Road America and Kentucky, ultimately unraveling his championship hopes. But in 2014, Smith has set the stage for redemption. He kicked the season off with a big win at Daytona and since has finished in the top 10 in each of his 12 starts. His consistency has garnered an average finish of 7.1 this season, and also a four-point lead over second-place Elliott Sadler in the series driver standings. Smith’s season-to-date Driver Rating is 99.8. In three starts at Michigan, Smith has posted an average finish of 17.3 which includes last season’s victory.

Smith’s JR Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, is third in the driver standings and will be making his series debut at MIS this weekend. Elliott has posted two wins, six top fives and nine top 10s this season.

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Alliance Truck Parts 250 from Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI beginning at 1:30 PM on 102.9 FM.

NASCAR Camping World Trucks: Series Returns To Gateway Motorsports Park

The much-anticipated return to a track with roots in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ formative years has arrived.

Gateway Motorsports Park, in the shadows of St. Louis and its breathtaking arch, had held truck races from 1998 until 2010 – welcoming such names as Rick Carelli, Greg Biffle, Jack Sprague, Ted Musgrave and Ron Hornaday, Jr. to its victory lane.

Now a new roster of young stars head to the 1.25-mile track, names like Erik Jones, Jeb Burton, Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ben Kennedy.

New names, same side-by-side, must-see action.

Ron Hornaday, Jr. is the lone competitor scheduled to race in Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 who has won at the track in the truck field.

The Fallen Linemen Organization will be guests of MAKE Motorsports and driver T.J. Bell during the event. This event will highlight the International Linemen Museum and Hall of Fame which was created to honor linemen who work alongside first responders throughout the country during situations that arise due to natural disasters and weather issues throughout the country. Several family members will be guests of the team during the Drivin’ for Linemen 200 on Saturday.
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