Steve Letarte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Getty Images)The Sprint Cup series returns to Michigan, where one Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his first win in a looooong time the last time we came around. And he didn't just win, he thumped the field. So there's an understandable sense of optimism around the 88 camp this week ... tempered with caution borne of years upon years of disappointment. What worked before might not work again, particularly with a slightly new tire and a track that's undergone a recent repave.
Letarte recently spoke with Frontstretch about the repave and the way it eliminated the high groove: "It is going to be years before you get back up to the wall again. You used to run up high because there was a little bit more banking and a little bigger radius to the corners, which was a little bit easier on your lateral load. Now that there is a tremendous amount of grip about one groove up, where there is the first groove with banking and that is where the preferred groove is. That is where you're going to see the majority of your cars." (That sounds like the threat of a one-groove track.)
On the plus side, Letarte noted that the cars have plenty of go: "I really think people underestimate just how much power we lose when we go to a restrictor plate track. We have a ton, a ton of power when we go to an open track."
Junior will be the odds-on favorite to repeat at Michigan. It won't be easy, but the fact that Letarte isn't taking anything for granted is a good sign for the 88's fans.