Junior Notches First Top-Five of 2017 at Texas

Tyler Overstreet | JR Motorsports | 4/9/2017

Axalta Dale Jr. NASCAR News Texas

Dale Jr. recorded his fifth consecutive finish of sixth or better at Texas Motor Speedway with a top-five run in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile quad-oval / 334 laps
Weather: Sunny, 77 degrees
Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 5th

There may have been new pavement and a tricked-up configuration at Texas Motor Speedway, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 Axalta team found their same old success logging their first top-five finish of the season in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Earnhardt has now finished sixth or better in his past five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

Despite starting 37th after his team was unable to pass pre-qualifying technical inspection in time on Friday afternoon and a new surface that seemed impossible to pass on, Earnhardt patiently worked his way forward from the drop of the green flag. Crew chief Greg Ives made the right call at every occasion to provide his driver additional track position via pit strategy.

The No. 88 was scored 28th when a competition caution slowed the field at lap 30. Ives elected to give Earnhardt only two fresh tires on the pit stop and catapulted the former Texas winner up 10 positions to 18th for the ensuing restart at lap 37. Dale Jr. climbed as high as 10th during Stage One, but ultimately settled for a 15th-place finish.

When the race resumed in Stage Two, Earnhardt started 10th and raced amongst the top 10 throughout. The No. 88 ran sixth when a caution waved with less than 10 laps remaining in the stage. Ives once again made a brilliant call to bring Earnhardt to pit road and only gave up three positions to finish the stage ninth.

That call put Earnhardt in position to stay on track while six of the eight cars in front of the No. 88 pitted between stages, propelling Junior to third for the start of the final stage. The final stage ran green with Earnhardt racing his way as high as third for much of the stint. He was scored fourth when the caution waved at lap 300. Ives elected to give his driver fresh right-side tires only for the 30-lap dash to the finish. Over the final run, Earnhardt worked his way back inside the top five to finish the afternoon fifth.

Jimmie Johnson claimed his first victory of the season over Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Earnhardt.

The NASCAR Cup Series takes next weekend off before returning to action April 23 at Bristol Motor Speedway.