To anyone who wins a race at the legendary Martinsville Speedway a Grandfather clock is awaiting them in Victory Lane. It's a trophy that has become one of the most recognizable and sought after in NASCAR.
Appreciative of the track's history, winning at Martinsville is high atop Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s list of things to accomplish, just as his dad did six times.
"This is a track I have been trying to get a win at for a long time," Earnhardt said Friday. "I grew up in a house full of clocks so it's been pretty illusive.
"I love short-track racing. I love this track. I love the history of this place, what it represents. It's a joy to run here and a lot of fun to race. It can be frustrating and you've got to battle all day long to maintain your track position, but it's a good challenge, a fun challenge."
Although he's never won here, Earnhardt has evolved into one of the better drivers at the half-mile bullring, which requires more finesse than just about any other track on the circuit. In 28 Martinsville starts, he has recorded 10 top-five finishes including a runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick in 2011 that saw Earnhardt leading with four laps to go.
"I thought we were going to be fine once we got out front, but he was just so fast," Earnhardt said. "I tried to get under him in (turns) three and four but he didn't have a bumper left to move. I went in there to shove him a little bit and everything on that corner of his car was gone. That is just how it works out."
Because of his Daytona 500 victory last month, Earnhardt enters Martinsville differently this season then he has done in years past.
With NASCAR having modified its system to determine who qualifies for the Chase for the Sprint cup by emphasizing winning, Earnhardt is all but guaranteed a playoff berth. Accordingly, he can afford to be more aggressive Sunday and not be concerned with racing for points if he so chooses. But that comes with a caveat.
"As far as being offensive, defensive, you are only as offensive as your car will allow you to be," Earnhardt said. "If your car is fast enough you want to drive it as far as it can go. If your car is quick enough to be in the lead you want to get it there. If it's not you go as far as you can and try to defend that situation and wait until you have an opportunity to improve the car."
Earnhardt said he's never "walked on egg shells" at Martinsville and doesn't plan to do so Sunday. He acknowledges the challenge to claiming a Grandfather clock will come from Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who have combined to win 15 of the last 19 races.
The dominance exhibited by teammates Johnson and Gordon is something Earnhardt has tried replicating since 2008 when he joined Hendrick Motorsports.
"Jeff has a real good knack for finding out how to get his car around this place depending on how his car drives," Earnhardt said. "He can change his approach to the corner and how he enters the corner to affect the speed on his car quite well here.
"Obviously, Jimmie has got a lot of success here. But he seems to be very consistent in how he drives and deliberate in how he drives this track."