Junior Leads Early in Las Vegas, Finishes 10th


Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 70 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday before finishing 10th in the season's third race.

Race: Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile speedway / 367 Laps
Weather: Partly cloudy, 72 degrees.
Race Winner: Tony Stewart
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 10th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 10th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his second top-10 in three races to start the 2012 campaign.  He moves into fourth place in the point standings, now 18 points behind new leader Greg Biffle and six points behind third-place Denny Hamlin.  Reigning champion Tony Stewart won the Kobalt 400, leading 127 laps and beating Jimmie Johnson on a restart with four laps to go to hold on to the victory.  Johnson led 35 laps in his runner-up effort.  Biffle, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.

Starting a season-best fourth, Earnhardt Jr. led 70 laps to surpass his entire 2011 laps-led total (52).  They all came in the first 73 circuits, as he took the lead on the very first lap and darted to a two-second advantage over Kevin Harvick.  Earnhardt Jr.’s 70 laps led were the most since Oct. 24, 2010, at Martinsville Speedway when he led 90.  They were also the most laps he’s led at Las Vegas since March 2, 2003, when he led 97.

Earnhardt Jr. became mired in the pack as varying pit strategies played out.  After taking four tires on a lap-74 pit stop, the No. 88 restarted 18th.  He climbed to eighth at lap 135, but a recurring tight condition only worsened as the day grew long.  Crew chief Steve Letarte helped regain track position by opting for right-side tires only on each of the team’s final two pit stops (laps 206 and 230).  But the tight condition severely hindered Earnhardt Jr.’s corner entry, causing him to lose time to the leaders.

With three caution flags in the final 22 laps, Earnhardt Jr. jockeyed for a top-10 with Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.  He found himself fending off Gordon and Harvick on the final restart with four to go, and managed to keep both behind him to secure the top-10.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. / Driver No. 88 National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
“We were fast leading the race. The car was really tight, but we were so fast that I really didn’t give Steve (Letarte) the type of information I needed to give him.  We were flying there at the beginning. I knew by the end of the race – especially with all those cautions at the end – that it was going to be a really, really tight race track.  We needed to free the car up, and I didn’t give Steve good enough information throughout the day to give him the idea how tight the car really was.  I should’ve known better and should not have let that happen.  The track went passed us as far as the handling goes, and it cost us a handful of spots there at the end of the race.  But we had a good weekend.  The National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevy was fast all weekend.   If we keep doing that every week, we’re going to be right there, so we’ll just keep trying.”

Las Vegas Race Report
Start 4th
Finish 10th
Laps Completed (Led) 267 of 267 (70)
Standings (from leader) 4th (-18)
Pitstops Laps 43, 74, 125, 171, 206 (2 tires), and 230 (2 tires)
Condition Running