For the first time in eight years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. enters a NASCAR weekend as the Sprint Cup Series points leader. But even as he relishes the position he finds himself in and the dramatic turnaround the 88 team as undergone, it still isn't enough for Earnhardt Jr.
In his eyes, there is still more work to be done if he is to go from being a Chase also-ran a year ago to legitimate contender this season for the championship.
"In a broad spectrum, our team just needed to be quite a bit better and faster and we've gained what I consider to be 70 percent of that," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Pocono Raceway. "I think we have a little bit more we can find. We're running well, but we need to win more races and we need to show up and be the fastest car more often.
"We've been quick, but in my opinion, I've only been the fastest guy once or twice this year and I don't know if that's good enough. I'm going to say it's not good enough."
But in spite of the fact is team hasn't reached the level he would like it to – the No. 88 team is 10-15 percent short of where it needs to be on speed, he said – the results have been good enough in 2012 to propel Earnhardt Jr. to Victory Lane for the first time in four years, along with giving him cars good enough to finish in the top 10 during 15 out of 20 events.
And all success thus far has offered him "a little bit of vindication" over those critics who never thought he would win and be competitive again.
"It's been a long time since I was in the points lead; it's been forever," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I can't even recall the last time we were in the conversation for the championship. So these things are really validating the effort and the work we've done.
"Aside from winning a few more races, I don't know how much more of a statement I could have made than we made this year."
Yet in the same breath, the sport's most popular driver fell back to his mantra of looking at the bigger picture and seeing the ultimate goal.
"Leading the points the points today isn't as awesome as winning the championship and going to Vegas as the top dog," he said. "But it does feel good 20 races into the year to have put more points on the board than any other team."