FONTANA, Calif. – What do Dale Earnhardt Jr. and MAD Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman have in common?
They both would say the same thing right now: "What, me worry?"
While Earnhardt has gotten off to a terrible start this season – he finished 32nd at Daytona and 40th Sunday at California Speedway – he's not overreacting.
Sure, he may be 41st in the standings, 225 points behind series leader Mark Martin, but Junior is keeping things in perspective: it's only two races, and there still are 34 more left on the schedule.
"It's early in the season, so we can't get down," Earnhardt said after blowing an engine in Sunday's Auto Club 500. "We have to stay positive, pumped up. Guys have come back from this and made the playoffs. We can do it."
Engine unreliability has been a periodic problem for the entire Dale Earnhardt Inc. organization. Junior has suffered three blown engines in his last 30 races dating back to the spring race at Talladega last year, and that doesn't include the two motors in Junior's car that failed late last month during the two-day preseason test in Las Vegas.
"I was really, really worried about the motor situation going into this race after our test at Las Vegas," Earnhardt said.
He obviously had good reason to be worried. And of course, what's next on the schedule? Las Vegas on March 11.
To that, Earnhardt says simply, "We just have to keep our heads up."
Sunday's failure may have been the most spectacular of all. After dropping a cylinder and taking his No. 8 Chevrolet to the garage, Earnhardt was prodded by crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to go back on the race track even if he wasn't at full power.
"We tried to go out and get a few laps because Kasey Kahne blew up but fixed it and went back out," Earnhardt said. "So we were trying to get a few points, but we did blow again and spun out there. Luckily, we kept it out of the wall when it blew."
Earnhardt shared his motor misery with teammate Martin Truex Jr., whose motor blew just 14 laps into Sunday's 250-lap race. Junior lasted a bit longer, bowing out for good after 74 laps.
While two motors going south in the same race is not good news, at least DEI engine specialists have some time to diagnose what went wrong in the Nos. 8 and 1 cars, as the Nextel Cup series will enjoy a rare off-weekend this week.
With Las Vegas and Atlanta back-to-back in the following two weeks, finding a cause for why both motors failed at Fontana is imperative, lest Junior and Truex (who is 38th in the standings) fall even further back in both performance and points.
"We just have to figure out what we need to do with the motors," Earnhardt said. "I just have to leave it in the hands of the motor builders back at DEI. We have two weeks and I know they are going to be working long, long days [but] they will figure it out. I have every faith they will."
Although Earnhardt said several times after Sunday's race that he's not overly worried about where he, Truex and fellow teammate Paul Menard (43rd) rank in the standings after just two races, he did show that it's on his mind.
"I am concerned about the points now after Daytona and here [Fontana]," he said.
But he quickly backtracked and predicted everything will be all right – eventually, he hopes.
"We kind of saved [his motor and Truex's motor] before it came apart, so we'll be able to get a good look at it and figure out what we need to do and then go to Vegas and try not to have the problems we're having.
"We will figure out what the issue is. We have a long season. We just need to stay positive."