Cautiously conservative

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on June 1, 2012 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

DOVER, Del. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t ready to call himself a contender, but he knows he’s close. Currently fourth in the Sprint Cup standings, 18 points behind leader Greg Biffle, Earnhardt is the only driver to have finished on the lead lap in each of the 12 Cup races this season.

“We’re trying to put ourselves into the Chase, and we’re going to try to be one of the strongest teams when that time comes,” Earnhardt said. “I wouldn’t call ourselves a contender, (but) we’ve got a chance to be one this year the way we’re doing it.”

To solidify his credentials, though, Earnhardt must break a winless streak that reached 141 races last Sunday at Charlotte, where he finished sixth.

Earnhardt will start 17th Sunday.

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