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Pace yourself, Earnhardt Jr. -- that goes for your fans as well

Stay patient, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans. That goes for you, too, Junior. Earnhardt backers clearly weren't happy with the outcome of Saturday night's race at Richmond. Kyle Busch and Earnhardt banged each other for the lead in the closing laps, and...

Stay patient, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans. That goes for you, too, Junior.

Earnhardt backers clearly weren't happy with the outcome of Saturday night's race at Richmond. Kyle Busch and Earnhardt banged each other for the lead in the closing laps, and Earnhardt was spun out.

That's racing. It just happens. To Earnhardt's credit, he said as much to the media. Busch also said it was two drivers racing hard without a lot of room on the track.

Many fans didn't see it that way, and that's fine. In fact, that's good for racing if this creates a rivalry between the drivers.

But to a large degree, the frustration from supporters of Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevy is about his lengthy absence from Victory Lane. Saturday marked two years since Earnhardt's last win. It's his longest drought since he joined the Sprint Cup circuit full time in 2000.

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Earnhardt must fight the tendency to get too aggressive and take too many risks just to celebrate a win again. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. must do the same.

Strange advice? Maybe. Racing is about winning, and Earnhardt isn't doing that. But he's running up front and gaining valuable points at nearly every event. That's how you win championships. The trips to Victory Lane aren't far behind.

Ask Jimmie Johnson. He knows something about winning.

"I don't know if I have any advice for Junior; I think he's doing just fine," Johnson said. "The best thing to do is just keep doing what you're doing. I just try to be patient and work on the things that I can control because there are so many things that I can't."

This is Earnhardt's best shot to claim his first Sprint Cup title since 2004, when he won a career-high six times and finished fifth in the standings.

For the first time since that season, Earnhardt is in the top five of the standings after the first 10 races. He has seven top-10 finishes, the same number he had at this point in the last two seasons combined. He's 104 points behind the leader, Busch. That's the closest he has been to the lead through the first 10 races since 2004, when he led the standings after a couple of wins.

The numbers show Earnhardt is a weekly contender. The more often he runs up front, the better chance he has of winning. So calm down, everybody. Earnhardt is going to win, and probably soon.

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