Before climbing from his car to celebrate his sweep of the two Pocono races this summer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a phone call from his team owner Rick Hendrick.
"I just told him thanks for believing in me and making my life better," Earnhardt told the media later. At one point, "he had every right in the world to replace me with another driver," Earnhardt said.
Indeed, there was a long stretch when NASCAR's most popular driver struggled to believe in himself -- and when he tried the patience of his legion of fans -- because he simply couldn't get his No. 88 Chevrolet to Victory Lane.
That all changed this year, starting with Earnhardt's win at the season-opening Daytona 500. Then he won the first Sprint Cup Series race at Pennsylvania's Pocono Raceway in June and followed it up with the second win there Sunday.
And to put Earnhardt's three wins this year into perspective, that's one more victory than the son of the late Dale Earnhardt had achieved in the prior seven years combined.
Earnhardt, 39, not only had a fast car Sunday, he also benefited from a deft pit-stop strategy late in the race by his crew chief Steve Letarte. And Earnhardt, seeking his first series title, now is solidly in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff later this year.
The often reserved, somewhat shy Earnhardt becomes thoughtful and expansive when he's happy, and such was the case again Sunday.
"Everything about life right now has been great," he said. "I got my professional life good, and the personal life's doing good" with girlfriend Amy Reimann, he said.
A reporter asked Earnhardt to list his simple joys: He replied, "Amy, [Washington] Redskins, my family, drinking a cold beer."
Then Earnhardt went on Twitter, where he wrote: "Great car. Great motor. Great team. Great company. Damn things are good. Lucky to be a part of it. Thankful for it. Won't forget it."
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