Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a bit of an accidental tourist during the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
I mean that in good way. Earnhardt is a solid fourth in points and has four Top 5s, but this sport — just like chess, cricket and curling — is all about winning.
And Junior has not won a Cup race since Michigan last year.
Guess which track is next on the schedule?
"We run pretty good there, so hoping to have a good summer," Earnhardt said after his third-place finish at Pocono — his first Top 5 finish since March.
While English teachers may cringe at the grammatical hiccups, you get the message.
It is all about momentum, and Earnhardt feels it after his solid run at Pocono.
"We were counting on sort of rebounding," Earnhardt said. "We haven't had a good last couple of months, cars haven't been that fast, had some issues here and there. But it's good to get a good solid full race in and finish where I felt like the car was capable of running, and we got a couple other tracks coming up. Hopefully we can do this throughout the summer and get ourselves in the Chase pretty comfortably."
The NASCAR nation certainly hopes so.
For all of the success of drivers such as Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt remains NASCAR's Favorite Son. He is the pure-blood of a NASCAR icon, a heavy piece of baggage since the death of his father on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.
At times, Earnhardt has seemed disinterested in his profession, chugging along and not getting terribly bothered by the great expectations. Other times, most notably in the days and months following the death of his father, Earnhardt wanted to run away and do something else.
But he has persevered. He has finished seventh and 12th in points the last two seasons, and would have finished higher in 2012 if he hadn't missed two races with concussion complications.
But fans want more. They always do.
To the point, fans have selected Earnhardt as the most popular driver in the sport for the last decade.
"I don't know if there's a way to explain it or understand," he said at the start of the season. "It's kind of overwhelming. I don't know that I really realize exactly what that means until it's way, way down the road. I'll look back on it finally, tell my grandkids, nephews, nieces about it, and see if they really dig it or not.
"It's pretty cool just to win it the first time. That really, you know, took me aback, surprised me when that happened. To keep going back and keep winning it, it just means we got a lot of loyal fans and got a great fan base that's been supportive through these years, and they're still sticking behind us and excited about what we're doing."
The excitement builds as Junior heads to Michigan, where he won in last June and then finished fourth in the August race.
For the NASCAR Nation, nothing would be sweeter than Junior's first win of the season.
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