LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s summer swoon hasn't dented his confidence.
At least not yet.
Earnhardt was having his best season at Hendrick Motorsports and was in the hunt for several wins until this four-race slump sent him from third to eighth in the standings.
He finished 21st at Michigan, 41st at Sonoma, 19th at Daytona and 30th last week at Kentucky, a rough stretch that not only extended his losing streak to 111 races, it again stirred doubts that he can be a serious contender for the title.
Earnhardt is frustrated, for sure. But NASCAR's most popular driver hasn't let the dip in production affect his morale. He was one of the hottest drivers in the sport six weeks ago and he believes he can hit that level again.
``We've got good cars. We've got a really, really good team,'' he said. ``We should be running better than we have been the last couple of weeks and we know it. We are just going to try and work really hard to get back where we were earlier in the season. It shouldn't be that difficult.''
His eighth-place standing would earn him a guaranteed spot in the Chase for the championship field at the cutoff. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is only 21 points ahead of 11th-place driver Tony Stewart, leaving little wiggle room for more poor finishes. A top 10 at New Hampshire could go a long way toward easing some doubts about Earnhardt.
``We wanted to come in here with a lot of confidence that we belong in the Chase,'' Earnhardt said. ``That we belong up front in the top five and the top 10 and try to make that happen this weekend and try to race up there well.''
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DO-GOODER GORDON: Jeff Gordon is spending his off weekend far, far from the track: All the way in the Congo.
Gordon leaves right after Sunday's race at New Hampshire as part of the Clinton Global Initiative. Gordon, part of a group that he said included actress Ashley Judd, will visit a refugee camp in the Congo. Gordon said he's been planning the trip since last year.
``My expectations are to see some jaw-dropping, eye-opening experiences that are going to change my life forever,'' he said. ``Hopefully, we can do some very good things to try to change that in the future.''
Gordon works with various charitable endeavors, including his own foundation and hunger relief. He visited a food bank in New Hampshire and donated $10,000. He plans to visit Rwanda in December.
It's a short trip, he'll return Friday, and he'll keep fans updated through his Twitter feed. The four-time Cup champion hopes the trip will aid him in further development in the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation Pediatric Cancer Treatment Research.
``You realize that the government has a tough enough time controlling and keeping things safe, so there's definitely a little bit of fear that's built in there,'' he said. ``It's a short trip, but I think it's very valuable, and I think it's important to what our cause is about. If we are really going to stand behind the work that we're wanting to do, how can you do it from that far of a distance without really getting in there and truly understanding it?''
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HELTON RULE: Kyle Busch has a court date on Wednesday because he was cited for careless and reckless driving. Busch was busted driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone in a borrowed Lexus.
While some sports, most notably the NFL, get involved in discipline even after verdicts have been issued, NASCAR president Mike Helton said he would like to steer away from those types of punishments.
``I think what we try to do is be very respectful of the fact that our realm is regulating, our realm of responsibility, (is) NASCAR as a sport and letting the proper jurisdictions regulate everything outside the sport,'' he said.
Helton touched on a few subjects during a press conference to discuss the traffic debacle at Kentucky:
- On NASCAR's ``boys, have at it'' policy: ``I think the policy is being probably defined every time something happens and the community sees our reaction to it. So it's a never ending process of defining what all that means.''
- On NASCAR regulating rivalries: ``What we're after is to encourage the drivers to be drivers on the racetrack and let their own character prevail, while at the same time understanding our responsibility to maintain a reasonable law and order in the environment around the racetrack.''
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Follow Dan Gelston on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APgelston

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