NASCAR Indianapolis 2013: Dale Earnhardt Jr. admires Indy’s rich tradition, wants Brickyard win

Chris Trotman

Knowing what a victory at Indianapolis represents, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seeks to add his name alongside those who have won the Brickyard 400.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s appreciation for the history of NASCAR runs deep and it manifests itself each year when the Sprint Cup Series travels to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His admiration for what Indianapolis represents goes back to his father and the open-test NASCAR conducted in 1993 that signaled the sport might finally be welcomed at the track which for decades had shunned stock-car racing.

"I remember how excited he was and everybody else was about that specific tire test," Earnhardt said Friday. "And I remember the mental and literal race to be the first guy on the race track once they got here. My dad and Rusty (Wallace) were sort of elbow-to-elbow trying to be the first guy to be on the track. For my father, for some reason, that was historic in its own right."

The year following was the inaugural Brickyard 400, easily one of the most anticipated events in the annals of NASCAR. And despite his youth, Earnhardt was still able to grasp the magnitude of what was unfolding.

"I remember as young as I was, thinking about how big a deal it was for the sport that we were going to have a race here," Earnhardt said. "... It was just really overwhelming because I was just a kid, so wasn't an expert on the thing.

"I felt like the door was always closed to stock cars racing here. I felt like that was just one thing that would never happen; that IndyCar and open-wheel would be too protective or that the history and tradition of this place would never be broke. But it was awesome that we got the opportunity to come here."

Twenty years later NASCAR's annual stop at Indianapolis has become arguably the second-biggest event on the Cup schedule. A victory in the Brickyard 400 is second only to a win in the Daytona 500.

"Anybody who wins here gets to put their name along a list of names of legends and not only in the stock car racing realm, but also in open-wheel and all kinds of other different series," Earnhardt said. "It's a pretty big deal and there is a good amount of envy to the guys that have won this race before."

But while Earnhardt has conquered Daytona, he has yet to visit Victory Lane at Indianapolis. His fourth-place finish in this race a year ago was a personal best, but it is one of just three top-10 finishes he has in 13 career starts on the 2.5-mile speedway.

There is reason to think, however, that this could be Earnhardt's time to win at the track he greatly admires.

This year the No. 88 car has performed well at tracks requiring high horsepower. At Pocono -- a track similar to Indianapolis with long straightaways and sweeping corners -- Earnhardt placed second. And a week later at Michigan, he was leading when his engine expired, ending his afternoon.

"It is a fun race track to drive on just because of the history and everything that has happened here and all the races that you've watched growing up," Earnhardt said. "... It's a real technical track and if you are just looking at the racetrack you would assume that all the corners look relatively similar.

"But to be honest all the corners are really different and as odd as it is they are extremely different from each other. That makes it a bit of a challenge, a good challenge, trying to get a car that goes fast and a car that doesn't have trouble at one end of the track and make things difficult."

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