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“It’s best that we made a good call, and we were good enough to get back up in the top 10,” Earnhardt said. “If we can put together this type of performance in the Chase, I don’t see why we can’t consider ourselves with an opportunity to challenge for the championship.”

But no matter how much he tries to stay the course, the focus from the outside is still on his lack of victories. When asked Thursday what he remembered most about his fuel-mileage victory at MIS four years ago, Earnhardt paused for a while. The date was June 15, 2008, and he snapped what was at that point a 76-race winless string.

“Probably just the nerves of the last few laps,” Earnhardt said. “To know we had a green-white checkered and not sure I had enough gas to make it.”

Earnhardt has won twice at MIS and finished 10 times in the top 10 in 18 starts. The track was repaved during the offseason, and Sprint Cup drivers have been almost routinely surpassing 200 mph during practice runs.

Earnhardt surpassed 201 on Friday.

“Up until last week, I felt like they were a team that was just strong and consistent and doing a great job, but not really a team that showed like they really had what it took to win,” Gordon said. “Last week, they showed by dominating that race that they really stepped up their game this year and have a real legitimate shot at winning races.”