DOVER, Del.—Not since 2002 had Dale Earnhardt Jr. won more than one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole in a single season.
Earnhardt’s track-record run at Dover International Speedway, however, held a significance deeper than merely claiming the top starting position for Sunday’s AAA 400, the third race in the Chase.
To Earnhardt, the Coors Light Pole-winning run was emblematic of the progress he has made with crew chief Steve Letarte and his entire No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team.
“I would say it’s a reflection of where the program is,” Earnhardt told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Just how Steve and I, since we first started working together … we have gotten better each year. One of the things we started focusing on last year was qualifying, and I think that has rolled over into this season.
“We continue to put importance on that and try to improve on that. The racing and the cars and the speed the cars have in the races has also improved. We really focused on qualifying last year and even more so this year.”
It’s also a function of more effective communication between driver and crew chief.
“He and I are working better together,” Earnhardt said. “The longer we work together, the better we get at it and the more we understand each other and the more he understands what I need in the car. We have also kept the majority of the team intact from the beginning. That’s so important, to keep that together if you can, because everybody sort of learns what they can about each other.
“Steve is really good. … He has made me a better race car driver. He makes his engineers better. I mean, he is really good at his job. So he deserves a lot of credit for us improving and being able to get these poles and just qualifying better.”
Earnhardt maintained his pace during Saturday’s practice sessions at the Monster Mile. He was second quickest behind teammate Kasey Kahne in the morning session and fifth fastest in Happy Hour.