Earnhardt out to end decade-long 'Dega drougt

NASCAR Wire Service Friday, Oct 17 1595

There was a time Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated Talladega Superspeedway in such a way that only one word could describe him: Untouchable.

From 2001-04, Earnhardt rattled off a track-record four consecutive victories, followed by two straight runner-up finishes and a fifth checkered flag. But that run 10-plus years ago seems like decades to No. 88.

A decade has passed since Earnhardt's last win at 'Dega (Oct. 3, 2004). Still, his five visits to Victory Lane rank third on the track's all-time list.

Currently sitting at 12th in the standings -- 26 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for the final Eliminator Round spot -- Earnhardt will need to rekindle some of his old Talladega magic in Sunday's GEICO 500 cutoff race (2 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Barring epic collapses from at least four drivers in front of him -- a distinct possibility at the 2.66-mile restrictor plate track known for its treachery -- he must win Sunday to move onward in the Chase.

Earnhardt is fully aware of his mission at Talladega.

"Go out there and win it," he said. "We can do it; we have won there a lot of times. I know what we need to do. We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don't have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it."

NASCAR's 11-time most popular driver has still performed well throughout his 19-race 'Dega drought. He has recorded a respectable six top-10 finishes, including two runner-ups, the most recent in last fall's Talladega tussle. Earnhardt also boasts the third-highest driver rating (90.3) at the Alabama track over that stretch.

A rejuvenated Junior has proven anything can happen this year. His three victories so far in the 2014 campaign outnumber his win total from the last seven seasons combined. "The season isn't over," Earnhardt posted on Twitter after Charlotte. "We will take a rocket to Dega and fight till the end. 110% till the checkered at Homestead."