[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]Back when he was driving for his late father’s team, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Hendrick Motorsports was the biggest reason he couldn’t break though for a win at Martinsville.
Sunday it looked like it was going to be more of the same as Earnhardt Jr. sat third, chasing teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with less than 10 laps to go. But when David Reutimann stopped on track and brought out the caution, not only did everything change they got a lot more interesting.
Earnhardt Jr. came down pit road for two tires and fuel, crew chief Steve Letarte not wanting to take any chances. He restarted sixth, then all hell broke loose when Clint Bowyer, restarting third, got into Gordon and Johnson bringing out another caution. This time Earnhardt Jr. restarted third, where he finished.
“Yeah, I’m real happy with our finish. We worked hard all day, all weekend really we worked hard to obviously get the best finish we could,” said Earnhardt Jr. “This is our first race with AMP on the hood and we are proud to have a good finish for those guys, had a lot of people here this weekend.”
It was another strong day at Martinsville for Earnhardt Jr., who has taken a liking to the short track. While his average finish is a 12.6, he has 14 top 10s and 10 top fives in 25 starts with 868 laps led. That includes four straight top seven finishes.
HMS now has to wait two weeks when the NSCS returns at Texas to try for their 200th win. Earnhardt Jr. will look to the track where he earned his first career win to break his now 135 race winless streak, dating back to June of 2008 at Michigan. But Sunday he showed promise, just as he did a year ago at Martinsville.
Just past the races 230-lap mark he took the lead from Gordon before heading down pit road. He would only lead those three laps after starting 14th but he ran in the top 10 the entire race. His car however, was stronger on long runs than it was on short, not having the speed to keep with the leaders and make a move.
“But after the lap 45 or so, I thought our car was great, really comfortable and doing everything I wanted it to do,” Earnhardt Jr. “Really, really fun race. This is a fun racetrack. I was really happy with how the race was playing out there until the end. We totaled both sides of my car at the end of the race. Felt unnecessary to me but that’s the way it happened.”
While pleased with his finish, he was none too happy with Reutimann. He wanted a good explanation from either himself or his crew chief because Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t think of a logical reason for his actions.
According to Earnhardt Jr. a driver should know that when they have a problem they need to get to pit road. After going past a slow Reutimann the first time, Earnhardt JR. didn’t think he would have a problem getting off the track.
“I would like to hear a good excuse to be honest with you because I’m sure it would be laughable,” said Earnhardt Jr.
Afterwards Reutimann told TV viewers and Twitter followers that he had not intentionally stopped on the track. He said that he was having motor problems and was just trying to salvage the day and remain locked into the top 35 in points.
When told of his explanation, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t look convinced but said he had nothing to say. He wasn’t however, upset with the caution that came after that, when Bowyer discarded of his teammates. That was racing, drivers going for the win but there just wasn’t enough room.
It worked out for Earnhardt Jr. though, since he had pitted he wasn’t caught in the mess. But as a whole it was disappointing end for HMS, even if back-to-back third place finishes move Earnhardt to second in the NSCS points, six markers behind leader Greg Biffle. His teammates sit 10th, 21st and 31st in points, all feeling they’re closing to breaking through.
“I don’t know what we have done and our team has done really and I’m happy with the way our car is running,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I can’t believe the 5 [Kasey Kahne] and the 24 [Gordon], they have been fast, the 5, sitting on the pole and he has been fast everywhere.
“He was killer fast at Phoenix. The 24 has been lightning fast at a lot of places. Jimmie is always quick everywhere. So they just had really bad luck. I think we actually have more speed as a group, as a whole, than we did last year.”