Earnhardt Jr. holds on for solid top 10 at Texas
By SM Staff On Sun, Nov. 04, 2012
Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought he could win the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday night but he needed one of two things to happen. The race end in a fuel mileage situation or the leaders, teammate Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, to wreck themselves as they raced hard during the final few laps.
Neither ended up happening – there’s going to be cautions at the end, he said – and Earnhardt Jr. came home with a seventh place finish. A hard fought finish he thought he was going to have last week as well, before being wrecked. In Texas though, he closed the deal in his second race back after sitting out two weeks following his second concussion in six weeks.
“That was pretty crazy. I was thinking I might have a shot to win if they kept on going like that,” said Earnhardt Jr. afterwards. He had a front row seat when Keselowski and Johnson made contact and raced hard during the final few restarts. “Somebody else might win the race, but I was glad to see Jimmie take it at the end. What a battle this championship is. Brad is putting up an awesome fight.”
Johnson and Keselowski finished the race 1-2, while Earnhardt Jr. lost a few spots and fell outside the top five. But he was as much impressed with his team as he was with what Keselowski and Johnson have been doing in the Chase. Earnhardt Jr. was mathematically eliminated from contention on Sunday night, he sits 12th in points.
“They have been real impressive. But I’m a company man so I’m glad HMS [Hendrick Motorsports] is on top tonight.”
Coming from the 19th starting position, Earnhardt Jr. spent much of the first half of the race battling for a top 15 position. His car wasn’t bad, just not dialed in enough for him to make a run for the front. As the sun went down and the lights came on though, Earnhardt Jr. found his rhythm.
Taking up residence with the leaders as his pit crew continued to gain him spots on pit road, he was in prime position to make a challenge for the win. He ended up saving enough gas that when he made it into the top five crew chief Steve Letarte let him race, he was good to go to the end of the race had there not been a caution. Those in front of him were either going to be really close, or not close enough. It would have put him in the catbird seat.
A rash of cautions in the final 50 laps however, changed everything. It became a fight to the finish and having restarted on the outside, Earnhardt Jr. was unable to go forward.
“We just restarted on the outside and it’s a little tough out there to make any ground,” he said about the end. “We had been on the inside all day making up time. We had a pretty good car at the start of the race. We dialed it way out and got real slow and made some great changes near the end. The pit crew did a good job, they gained us about eight spots on pit road those last two stops.”
“Real happy with the way we were able to rebound. I would have liked to have run in the top five, maybe been a little closer to the front, but we definitely run a little bit better like we should.”
The finished marked the fifth time in his last six Texas races that Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top 10. The NSCS heads to Phoenix next week, where he’s a two-time winner.