Late Pit Strategy Shuffles Dale Jr. to 14th at Richmond


Dale Jr. led 69 laps before a late pit stop forced the No. 88 team to relinquish third-place resulting in a 14th-place finish in the final race before the Chase.

Race: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway
Track Specs: .75-mile oval/ 400 Laps
Weather: Showers, 64 degrees
Race Winner: Clint Bowyer
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 14th

With rain delays stretching the race into the early hours of Sunday morning, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard team finished 14th at Richmond International Raceway to put a wrap on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series “regular season”.

With the points now reset for the top-12 drivers, Earnhardt gives up second place in the standings and will enter the 2012 Chase for the Championship in seventh position, trailing point-leader Denny Hamlin by nine points. Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon locked down the two wildcard positions (11th and 12th), putting all four HMS teams in the Chase field. The full field of drivers vying for the 2012 championship will be: Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kahne and Gordon.

Having earned his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, Earnhardt started first and led 69 laps, the third-most laps led this year behind his 70 at Las Vegas (3/11) and 95 at Michigan (6/17). Junior swapped leads with Hamlin three times through the first 150 laps before a rain shower halted the race for 54 minutes.

When the race resumed, Earnhardt battled a severely loose condition with the car, a problem that was remedied with a track-bar adjustment on the fourth of five pit stops on lap 281. Restarting 15th, the No. 88 team took a gamble by staying on the track longer than most else in hopes for a timely caution. Had the yellow waved, Earnhardt would’ve been in prime position for the victory, but it didn’t come. The final 119 laps were completed under green, and Earnhardt gave up third spot when he made his final stop on lap 382.

Bowyer won the race, stretching his fuel to the end and beating Gordon by a full second. Mark Martin finished third followed by Stewart and Kenseth.

Earnhardt enters his fifth-career Chase with one victory, 10 top-fives, and 17 top-10s through 26 races.

“This feels great to be in the Chase and go for the championship. We felt like we could do it all year long. As for tonight, we had a decent run. We’ll give Steve a lot of heck for gambling like he did at the end because I think we all wanted to pit, the whole team (laughing). But he wanted to win the race, and that was our only shot. In all seriousness, we’ve had an awesome year. I want to thank everyone at Hendrick for all the hard work they did in the off-season. They got us such good speed this year, and we’re a much better program overall and a much better company. The guys at the shop deserve all the credit. These cars are a lot of fun to drive. I’m just proud to be part of the team.”

Richmond Race Report
Start 1st
Finish 14th
Laps Completed (Led) 399 of 400 (69)
Pit Stops Laps 47, 139, 231, 281 and 382
Standings (from leader) 7th (-9)
Condition Running