BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped a long losing streak when he won at Michigan International Speedway two years ago.
How much have times changed? A victory this week would give NASCAR’s most popular driver a winning streak.
Earnhardt has already reached Victory Lane twice this year, including last weekend at Pocono.
Now third in the Sprint Cup standings, Earnhardt has three second-place finishes in 2014 to go with his two wins — and the question is no longer whether he can win, but how often.
“Definitely that’s new,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the new conversation topic for us, but I just want to win the next one. We have so much fun winning and going to Victory Lane and last week was so much fun (with) the feeling that you have inside and that you have for several hours after that. It’s like the best feeling ever. And I want to do it again. I want to do it now, this weekend.”
Earnhardt paired his first career win at Pocono with his Daytona 500 championship for his first multi-win season since 2004. He’s won twice at Michigan, including the 2012 victory that was his first in a Cup race anywhere since he also won at MIS four years earlier.
Earnhardt’s success this year has come to some degree at the expense of Brad Keselowski, who got his break when Earnhardt hired him to drive for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.
Although their developing rivalry does not involve any real bad blood, Earnhardt and Keselowski have found themselves going head to head a decent amount lately.
When Earnhardt won at Daytona, Keselowski was third, and Keselowski was second to Earnhardt last weekend at Pocono. Keselowski did win at Las Vegas early in the season — with Earnhardt finishing second.
Although Keselowski is from Michigan, he’s never won a Cup race at MIS, finishing as high as second. A win by Keselowski would extend Ford’s winning streak to four Cup races at this track. Joey Logano took last year’s August event, and Greg Biffle took the two before that.
Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have won the past four Cup races this year, with Jimmie Johnson winning twice and points leader Jeff Gordon also earning a victory in that span. And that doesn’t even count Jamie McMurray’s win for Chevy in the Sprint All-Star race last month.
Keselowski will try to end that run, while giving team owner Roger Penske another victory in Michigan after Logano prevailed last year. Keselowski is fifth in the Cup standings and Logano is ninth.
“I think it’s really good for Roger,” Keselowski said. “We rely on him so much to make our team go ... whether that’s motivation, sponsorship, funding, decision making, leadership — across the board — and to see him be excited to have two cars that are legitimate front runners week in and week out, I think that really energizes him to play a strong role on the NASCAR side.”
MENARD WINS AFTER LOGANO’S MISHAP: In Brooklyn, Mich., Paul Menard won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday when leader Joey Logano was victimized by a flat tire with about five laps remaining.
Menard ended up holding off Sam Hornish Jr. by a half-second.
for his first series victory since 2006. It was his first Nationwide start of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, followed by pole-winner Kyle Busch and Brian Scott. Regan Smith finished seventh and remained atop the points list.
Menard, one of several Sprint Cup drivers in contention in the event, won the 250-mile, 125-lap race in his No. 33 Chevrolet. Busch won his third Nationwide pole of the year but was unable to repeat his victory two weeks ago at Dover.