Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows it was a good weekend but still leaves Vegas frustratedBy Kelly Crandall
Dale Earnhardt Jr. rocketed from the outside of the front row to take the lead and drove away from the field by over five seconds. He led until lap 44 when he came down pit road, but a caution falling the right way gave him back the lead until lap 74 when he surrendered it for good after leading for 70 total laps.
Earnhardt Jr. went on to finish 10th, his second top 10 of the season. He sits fourth in points entering Bristol this weekend.
“Well, we didn’t keep up with the race track,” said Earnhardt Jr. on his finish. “The car was really fast at the start of the race. I didn’t give that information to Steve [Letarte, crew chief]. I don’t think I gave him a good enough understanding of where our racecar was, even though it was really fast.
“The track got really tight on us at the end of the race. Something that I should have had a handle on, and should have known better, and should have not let happen. We just didn’t have our adjustments going throughout the day to keep up with the track as it tightened up on us.”
For as hard on himself as he was about where they finished, Earnhardt Jr. was very pleased with the fast car that his team had given him. It was fast right off the truck on Friday, near the top of every speed chart in practice and qualified fourth, it just didn’t finish where it deserved.
“Hopefully we can keep bringing cars like that to the racetrack and we will get some opportunities to win,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We had good speed, led some laps. This is a tough series. When you get back in traffic it gets very competitive. Congratulations to Tony [Stewart] and his team. We’ll be at it in Bristol trying to get another one.”
The finish falls squarely on Earnhardt Jr.’s shoulders, at least according to him. Repeatedly saying after the race that he didn’t give Letarte enough or the right information to make changes to his car. And he didn’t think far enough ahead in the race to predict what the car or track would do.
That fault of Earnhardt Jr.’s cost the team on a weekend when they had one of the best cars on the track. And it’s something that he’s been publicly criticized for in the past.
As Sunday’s race started to wind down and cautions started to fall Earnhardt Jr. knew that his car was going to get tight and it would make the job of navigating traffic that much harder. It was too late though for changes to be made and he had to do the best he can with what box he had put himself in.
Once he lost the lead Earnhardt Jr. never cracked the top five for the remainder of the race. Instead he fought to remain inside the top 10 where he eventually finished. Yet, it was a former teammate of his who gave him unexpected trouble and halted the hard charge he was trying to make at the end.
Earnhardt Jr. was running 10th and coming with a full head of steam off turn two when Mark Martin, running ninth, remained next to the wall instead of moving to the inside.
It would have give Earnhardt Jr. a clear lane to drive by but instead he was knocked in the rear end by an upset Earnhardt Jr. The contact sent Martin into the backstretch wall, damaging the right side of his No. 55.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem with Mark and have so respect for him,” said Earnhardt Jr. “But to me, there is an unwritten etiquette that when the guy is running the top, even if you are clearing him or passing him, I’m coming 10 miles an hour faster off the top of the race track, you stay low.
“Don’t knock a half second off my lap time by being a jerk about it. Stay low. You are going to get it in the next corner and the position is going to be yours. Don’t pull up in front of somebody when they are going to come off the corner 10 miles an hour faster.”
Though he did apologize for damaging Martin’s car, Earnhardt Jr. said he was already frustrated at that point in the race and Martin sent him over the edge. Still looking to snap his 132 race, over three year, winless streak, Earnhardt Jr. is hungrier than ever and he’s ready for more than a solid weekend.
“We just wan to win really bad and felt like we should have finished better than we did,” he said. “I was just frustrated at that point and that is just not the way that I understand it to be done and I am sure he feels a different way about it but I think we definitely disagreed right there at that moment.”