Dale Earnhardt Jr. says all the right things about Auto Club Speedway, like how much he loves the track and the multiple grooves of racing it provides.
While that may be all well and good, the reality is the two-mile oval hasn't been too kind to him over the years.
Sure, he's had some good finishes along the way, including a third-place run in 2001 and a runner-up finish in 2006. More often than not though, Earnhardt Jr. has struggled, as indicated by his average finish of 21.7 and the seven consecutive finishes outside the top 10 he had heading into today's running of the Auto Club 400.
But this afternoon, Earnhardt Jr.'s admiration for the Southern California track matched his performance level as the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished third in the rain-shortened race.
"We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came," he said. "We had been watching the weather all day and we felt certain if it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three."
The result was Earnhardt Jr.'s second top-five finish of on the year, and it vaulted the driver three spots up the standings into third, just 17 points behind leader Greg Biffle.
"I'm really happy," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve (Letarte) and the team. Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive."
Next up in Earnhardt Jr.'s effort to snap his 134-race winless streak is a trip next Sunday to Martinsville Speedway. It's the place where he was leading just five laps from the finish last spring before being passed by eventual winner Kevin Harvick and had to settle for a hard-fought second.
"I look forward going to Martinsville," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It's a pretty fun track. We've had some good success there and I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win."