Earnhardt: Road racing is like golf — reps are everything

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (M), driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard/7-Eleven Chevrolet, signs autographs in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma on June 22, 2012 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

SONOMA, Calif. — Based on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record at Sonoma, it would be a pipe dream to expect him to double up on last week’s breakthrough Michigan victory with a win in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile road course.

Realistically, Earnhardt would he happy with a top-10 finish, something he hasn’t achieved in 12 starts at the demanding track. Earnhardt does have three 11th-place results at Sonoma, but he finished 41st last year after an overheating problem knocked his No. 88 Chevrolet out of the race after 45 laps.

To Earnhardt, who broke a 143-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winless streak last Sunday at Michigan, road racing skills are something you’re born with, but that’s not to say a driver can’t benefit from practice.

“I think it’s just something in the genes,” Earnhardt said Friday at Sonoma. “Some guys . . . Rusty Wallace was real good at it. He came from ASA (American Speed Association stock cars). Ricky Rudd was real good at it, but he ran a lot of go-karts when he was young, maybe on road courses and stuff, I assume. It’s hard to say. There are guys who are good at it with little explanation as to why, and then there are guys with a lot of background and good rhyme and reason as to what makes them talented on road courses.

“I think it’s either a niche you have, or you don’t. You can go to Bondurant (racing school) and places like that and get speed and find your inner Boris Said (a road course specialist. It’s kind of like being able to play golf well — it’s something you have to do all the time. If you neglect it or don’t take it seriously, you won’t be good at it. You can’t just pick up a bag of clubs and go hit every four months and think you’re going to play a good round.”

Earnhardt took his own advice. Before coming to Sonoma, he honed his road-racing skills at a recent test session at Road Atlanta.

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