Dale Earnhardt Jr. really likes his chances in the Chase

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy / 7-Eleven / National Guard Chevrolet, adjusts his helmet in the garage during practcie for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

JOLIET, Ill. — In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a career-best six races with family-owned Dale Earnhardt Inc. and entered the final race of the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in fourth place — with an outside shot at the title.

Even though Earnhardt has but one race in the win column so far this season, he believes he has a better shot at the championship this season than he did eight years ago.

“I think this is the best chance I’ve ever had,” Earnhardt said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway, site of Sunday’s Geico 400. “I think even more than 2004. Looking back on that year, I didn’t realize how close we could have come or how good that chance was. We really were a strong team–maybe weren’t the strongest team — (but) one of the two strongest teams for sure in the series that year.

“I think we’re a more complete team now, where we run good at all the race tracks, the majority of the race tracks with this group we’ve got today. I feel like there is no dominant figure in the group (of Chase drivers) that stands out. That really builds our confidence that it’s there for the taking if we can put it together consistent weeks — week-in and week-out, win a couple of races — that we could be the champion. No question about it.”

Earlier this week, Earnhardt denied a tabloid report he would wed girlfriend Amy Reimann at the end of the season. And he scoffed at the notion that a more stable personal life might have contributed to more solid performances on the track.

“I ran pretty good in 2004 — and I was anything but stable off the race track,” Earnhardt said with a smile.

Earnhardt was second fastest in Friday’s first Cup practice session and will be the 46th of 47 cars to make a qualifying attempt in Saturday afternoon’s time trials.

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