Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not Ready For 2011 Season To Finish

At this time last year, it seemed Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't wait for his miserable season to end.

There was no joy about coming to the racetrack late in 2010, and Earnhardt Jr. dreamed of spending time on his couch – not in the seat of another ill-handling race car.

One year later, it's been quite a turnaround.

"I don't particularly look forward to the end of the year," he said this week. "There have been seasons where I was ready for it to come to an end, but this is not one of those seasons."

Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in points this year after finishing 25th and 21st the last two seasons. If he gets a top-10 finish in either of the final two races, he'll match his top-10s total from 2009 and 2010 combined.

No matter what happens, he's guaranteed to have his best result in the standings since 2006.

It's no wonder, then, that Earnhardt Jr. is having exponentially more fun. But his sudden turnaround has surprised even him.

"I didn't anticipate that," he said. "I was worried of nothing changing and I was under a lot of pressure to perform and do better and I was worried, 'What if it didn't happen?' What was I going to do?"

Those concerns have disappeared, though. His pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte turned out to be magic – not only with the handling of the cars, but in their relationship on and off the track.

"I've enjoyed working with Steve a lot more than I can express," Earnhardt Jr. said. "... We haven't argued once, really, all year long. Nothing like I used to (with Lance McGrew and Tony Eury Jr.). I can't see we've had an argument that stands out. I don't think I've been able to go through a year with being able to say that."

There are still two weeks where something could happen, of course. But it's unlikely driver and crew chief would clash now, especially with the No. 88 having a strong chance at finishing the season as the top-performing Hendrick Motorsports team.

Of course, that could be both good and bad.

"I'd probably get credit for how I finished," Earnhardt Jr. said, "but blamed for how they finished."

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