Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still feeling positive about his fast start to the 2011 NASCAR season, but he's not ready to declare that he's busted his slump just yet.
Earnhardt Jr., speaking to reporters as part of a top-10 media availability for the first time this season, said Friday morning that it's important to remember how long the season really is.
"I think we've just got to temper our excitement over what we've seen so far," he said. "... Just got to temper your mood and keep working hard. Keep focused on how much further in the season we've got to go."
He cited races at Daytona and Phoenix as reasons not to assume past results are indicative of future success. He ran well at Daytona before crashing, but he said he was supposed to run well there. And at Phoenix, he said, he may not have gotten a 10th-place finish if a host of contenders hadn't crashed early.
Still, he's feeling optimistic that his new team and pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte may be the answer to his slump – particularly coming off an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas, which left him 10th in the point standings.
His is a cautious optimism, though.
"It's just such a clean slate starting this season that it allowed me to sort of reboot a little bit," he said. "Me and Steve are getting along really good. Hopefully we can maintain that. That's going to be the challenge, really – maintaining our positive attitude and the communication and the consistency that's working right now.
"That's going to be the hardest and will determine whether we can succeed or not – whether we can keep that going the entire season. The season is long, you get pissed off, things don't go right and you've got to get through those points."
In the past, Earnhardt Jr. said he's struggled with managing his emotions when he's faced with setbacks. He said "even the littlest thing" can throw him off, and added he's had "a hard time not letting things just ruin my day and getting pissed off at everything around me."
"I've always had that problem," he said. "That's going to be the tough part. The hardest part is just trying to keep the relationship as it (is now)."
Letarte, though, seems to specialize in keeping those around him positive. He's a motivator and a cheerleader, and Earnhardt Jr. said he gives off the impression that even when the car isn't good, "he's going to get it fixed before the end of the day."
"He does a great job of just keeping you in the game," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You're part of the puzzle and everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction. He's good at what he does, you know? There's no doubt about it."
So does Earnhardt Jr. feel like he's getting closer to winning?
"Yeah," he said. "I feel like we've made some steps that have helped us. We've got a long way to go, though."