Dale Eanhardt Jr.

Confident Earnhardt Heads Back to Daytona

The Long and Short of It
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit as the series reaches its midway point at Daytona International Speedway.</p>

The equipment and team help but Dale Earnhardt Jr. says a key reason for his success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season is crew chief Steve Letarte.

Since being paired together last year, Earnhardt has scored one victory, 11 top-five finishes and 25 top-10 finishes in 53 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Long Road

NASCAR's most popular driver has come full circle since 2004
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<p> After breaking a four-year winless drought at Michigan last Sunday, it's best to see the path that took Dale Earnhardt Jr. full-circle, back into contention and relevance in the Sprint Cup Series.&nbsp;</p>

Sunday, June 17, will be remembered by Junior Nation as they day when their boy finally came home. Much like John J. did at the end of Rambo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came full-circle, literally, this past Sunday in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, Michigan.

Ambrose vs. the Road Course, Junior's Confidence and Martin's Vacation

The Long and Short of It
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long looks at Marcos Ambrose and his record on NASCAR's road courses, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s confidence level, Elliott Sadler's title hopes in the Nationwide Series and Mark Martin's Sprint Cup vacation.</p>

To break one trend, Marcos Ambrose knows he’ll likely endure another when the Sprint Cup Series competes at Sonoma in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday in the first of two races at road courses this season.

Ambrose, who won at Watkins Glen last year for his first Cup victory, seeks to break a string of seven different winners on road courses. To do so, he’ll have to avoid the litany of trouble that lurks on the tight, 12-turn road course.

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

NASCAR's northern Chase swing in full effect

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Looked like the typical Chase race for Johnson ... until he was bit by the fuel bug. Still, how many teams do you know can run out of fuel on the final lap and still finish 10th?

2. Kevin Harvick  True to form, “The Closer” was running down Tony Stewart in the closing laps at Chicago. However, this time he came up short. Still your championship leader, though.

Exclude From Games: 
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<p> Tony Stewart makes a move up Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings after an impressive Chase-opening win in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.</p>

8. Matt Kenseth  Kenseth was Stewart’s main competition until — yes, you guessed it — the tank ran dry. And a little “help” from Travis Kvapil was salt in the wound.

9. Kyle Busch  Busch seemed to have a decent car in Chicago, but could never gain the track position he needed to run up front. Oh yeah, he ran out of gas, too.

10. Kurt Busch  Kurt says he’s in Jimmie Johnson’s head, but after listening to him rant to his team on the radio, I think Kurt’s pit crew is in Kurt’s head.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Was a legit top-10 car at race’s end. That everyone ran out of fuel in front of him was icing on the cake.

12. Denny Hamlin  What a difference a year makes.

13. Mark Martin  13th on back in the Horsepower Rankings is more or less irrelevant … much like on the Cup circuit!

14. AJ Allmendinger  It wasn’t pretty at Chicago, but credit AJ for a month of solid runs.

15. Clint Bowyer  Returning this week to New Hampshire. Also known to Bowyer as “the scene of the crime.”

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro