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Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘pulling’ for Jimmie Johnson to reach title No. 7

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 - Practice

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 11: Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, talks to Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 11, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has no reservations. He wants Jimmie Johnson to win a seventh Sprint Cup title.

Johnson, who is locked into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup title for the first time in the elimination format era, is the closest he’s been to a seventh title in three years. Doing so would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the all-time record.

Earnhardt Jr. can’t wait for it to happen.

“Really excited for Jimmie,” he said in the latest episode of the Dale Jr. Download. “He wants that so badly. We’ve had a few conversations about that. I know how much that would mean to him. I think he’s one of the greatest race car drivers this sport’s seen.”

Johnson’s sixth title came in 2013, which followed a streak of five championships from 2006-2010. Earlier this year Johnson tied, then passed Earnhardt Sr. on the all-time win list. Johnson’s win Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was his 78th.

“Obviously to win five championships in a row is unbelievable and the argument is undeniable that he is one of the greatest,” said Earnhardt Jr., who celebrated his 42nd birthday Monday. “He ranks right up there with the old man, anyone else you want to put in that conversation. To be quite honest, I am pulling for Jimmie to get this championship, and I believe he does deserve it after everything he’s put into the sport. I think it would be good for him to go ahead and win that championship.”

There were many questions around whether Johnson or any Hendrick Motorsports team would have the speed and consistency to advance passed the second round of the Chase. Johnson’s victory ended a 24-race winless streak for the organization, its longest stretch in more than 20 years and the longest of Johnson’s career.

Kasey Kahne finished the Bank of America 500 in third, his best result since a 2014 Atlanta win, 77 races ago. Alex Bowman, who is substituting for Earnhardt in the No. 88, qualified second for the race before being taken out in a crash resulting from a cut tire.

“It’s a bit frustrating to not be in the car knowing the cars are so good,” said Earnhardt, who hasn’t raced since July. “We’ve made so much strides over the last several months at HMS to improve our cars and improve our speed and that’s starting to show right when we need it to. I knew and said several times over the summer when the Chase came around we would rebound and be strong and we have. I’m not surprised. I was surprised by how frustrating and difficult the summer was, but I knew we would get it going. So I’m happy about that and makes me excited to be in the car when I do get back in there.”

Earnhardt won’t get back in his car until 2017 as he recovers from the concussion he sustained in June at Michigan International Speedway. Bowman will drive the No. 88 in all but one of the final six races. Jeff Gordon will make his last scheduled start at Martinsville.

But Earnhardt said he’ll attend all the remaining races, with the possible exception of Phoenix.

“I’ll be coming into Phoenix on Friday, but I don’t think I’m going to stay for the race,” Earnhardt said. “It’s certainly a unique perspective from my point of view. It’s huge relief for me to not be in the car so I can get well.”

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