Perseverance Pays Off: Junior Finishes 7th in Atlanta


Dale Jr. fought an ill-handling car for much of the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but several solid pit stops and strategy calls by Steve Letarte led the team to a seventh-place finish.

Race: AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.54-mile quad-oval / 325 laps
Weather: Partly Cloudy; 77 degrees
Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 7th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew team gutted out one of their most impressive top-10 finishes of the season Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway after battling an ill-handling car for the duration of the AdvoCare 500. Earnhardt managed to score a seventh-place finish to move the team into second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with one race remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

After starting from the 35th position, Earnhardt quickly raced his way inside the top 20 over the race’s initial stint before pitting at lap 40. From there, the progress slowed as Earnhardt’s running position fluctuated between 18th and 20th for the majority of the race’s next 225 laps. With a car that lacked overall grip on the track’s surface that has not been repaved since 1997, Dale Jr. found himself lapped by the leaders on two separate occasions.

Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte tried various changes on pit stops, but could never hit the perfect balance. Letarte finally swung the No. 88 Chevrolet’s handling to the tight side by adding two spring rubbers to the car’s left-rear spring at a pit stop on lap 244. While running 18th, the team opted to take the wave around back onto the lead lap, instead of pitting, for a restart at lap 270. A quick caution involving Earnhardt’s teammate Jimmie Johnson and others allowed the No. 88 team the chance to come to pit road for four fresh tires and restart 10th at lap 280.

Earnhardt seemed destined for a ninth-place finish when a caution for Jamie McMurray’s blown right-front tire slowed the field with only six laps remaining. The No. 88 team gained Dale Jr. two spots on pit road, allowing him to restart seventh for a green-white checkered finish. Earnhardt darted to fifth on the white-flag lap, but could not hold off Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, leaving him with a seventh-place finish.

Denny Hamlin grabbed his second consecutive victory and fourth overall this season, after holding off Jeff Gordon on the race’s final lap.

Earnhardt’s seventh-place finish marks his 17th top-10 finish of the season and first at the 1.54-mile track since 2008.

“Steve is really experienced and did a lot of crafty stuff on the strategy to get us our laps back and get us back into position, and that’s about the only thing I think we can take away from tonight. This track, I don’t think is similar to anything else we run on. The surface is real slick. There’s not another surface like this. We don’t run this kind of set-up at most of the other 1.5-mile tracks; so I’m not too worried about how we ran. I’m disappointed and worried about next time we come back here, a year from now; but for the future and the rest of the season, I feel pretty good.”

Atlanta Race Report
Start 35th
Finish 7th
Laps Completed (Led) 327 of 327 (0)
Pit Stops Laps 40, 82, 120, 169, 210, 244, 275 and 321
Standings (from leader) 2nd (-8)
Condition Running