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Dale Earnhardt Jr. After Eighth-Place Las Vegas NASCAR Finish: 'This Really Ain't A Fluke'

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. sprung from his car, greeted crew chief Steve Letarte and a couple crew members with handshakes and pats on the back, then approached a pair of reporters.

"How about that!?" he said, seeming like he was ready to do a cartwheel. "We'll see if we can keep it going."

Earnhardt Jr. could hardly contain his happiness after an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas, which marked his second consecutive top-10. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s first back-to-back top-10 finishes since July, and it moved him to 10th in the Sprint Cup point standings.

Clearly, Earnhardt Jr.'s new pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte is starting to pay off.

"It feels like it's working – and it's obvious that it is working, when you really look at it," he said. "I was sitting there in the middle of the race saying, 'You know, this really ain't a fluke. This is how it's supposed to go and how it should go – and how it went in the past when things were good.'

"Hopefully, we can do this every week. Hopefully we're consistent like this."

Earnhardt Jr. actually had a shot at a top-five, but a late pit call to take four tires left him in a bit of traffic he couldn't overcome. Still, he was hardly upset with the decision and was effusive in his praise for Letarte.

"We made some great adjustments," he said. "I just kept describing what I was feeling and what I needed, and Steve was really hitting right on it about every time. I'm happy.

"Fun team. Great group of guys. I'm proud to be a part of it and hope I can keep doing well and keep working well."

The performance was a far cry from Friday's struggles in qualifying, which left Earnhardt Jr. visibly frustrated. But he huddled with Letarte inside the team's hauler until the garage closed that night, then spent a significant portion of last evening consulting further on the car with Letarte and the team's engineers.

"It's fun in this hauler, man," Earnhardt Jr. said. "When you're running good, everything's easier to do. I really enjoy brainstorming with Steve. I think it makes me smarter, working with him. I become better at helping him.

"It's obvious when a driver puts all that time in that there's gains to be made and it'll be a plus. But he's just fun to brainstorm with and work with, and I just want to do good."

Earnhardt Jr. said his run was the first time in a long time in which he felt he could "beat the guys I was around." It boosted his confidence – an oft-discussed subject for Earnhardt Jr. – and he admitted thinking that his relationship with Letarte was somewhat of a last stand.

"Failure at this point is completely unacceptable," he said. "I've got to put it all out on the line to make this work, because if it don't work with him, I've got nowhere else to go. I've got no other options, really – other than to race myself into oblivion with my own team and Tony Jr. and those guys.

"I want this to work. I want to race Cup. I want to be in the COT the rest of my career, and I want to be successful."

Earnhardt Jr. said he can finally see the days when he gets frustrated with running just inside the top 15 again – which means he'll have expectations and confidence about being in the top five every week.

But until then – and until he wins – it's not time to get carried away.

"We ran eighth; last week we ran 10th," he said. "(We've got) major networks wanting us to sit down and talk about it. There ain't nothin' to talk about until we start winning. But we're getting there."

He seemed to realize that wasn't doing his day justice, so he leaned in and offered one final thought.

"This here is a good deal, though," he said with a wink.