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Earnhardt Finishes 14th at Phoenix

By Mike Davis, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 3/4/2012
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Race: Subway Fresh Fit 500K at Phoenix International Raceway
Track Specs: 1-mile speedway / 312 Laps
Weather: Sunny, 81 deg.
Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
Dale Jr.'s Finish: 14th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500K at Phoenix International Raceway, clipping off seven positions in the final 50 laps to take the checkered flag in his highest running position of the race. Until that point, the National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew team tirelessly tried to find grip for its Chevrolet, a problem that was intensified by the slick new asphalt at PIR. At the end of the day, the Steve Letarte-led team improved the car enough to run competitive lap times and finish with its second top-15 in as many races. Denny Hamlin claimed the victory, followed closely by Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Starting 29th, Earnhardt Jr. battled an aero push for most of the race but inched closer and closer despite several setbacks. One was on lap 64 when he had to pit a second time under caution due to bent sheet metal rubbing against his right-front tire. The extra pit stop sent Earnhardt Jr. back to square one, as he restarted in the exact position in which he started the race.

With continued adjustments over the course of multiple pit stops, the No. 88 Chevrolet gradually improved. Earnhardt Jr. was in 18th when he clicked off his fastest laps of the race, and his National Guard car responded greatly to changes made during a green-flag stop on lap 203.

While other cars tried to stretch their fuel mileage to the end, the National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew team solved that problem with a gas-only pit stop with 64 laps to go. It set Junior up for yet another climb, as he drove from 21st to 16th as the laps winded down, and gained two additional spots when two cars ran out of gas on the final lap.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. / Driver No. 88 National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
"We fought the car all weekend. I'm proud of the team. They worked hard all day, and Stevie made the car better. There just wasn't a lot of grip out there. We had to be patient and get whatever we could, because we were really sliding the right-rear everywhere, and when we got behind other cars it was really hard to pass them. We would get so tight, and it would just push. But we got everything we could get today, and sometimes that's what you have to do. This wasn't the most fun I've had in a race car, but we'll move on to the next race. We have a long way to go. We know we need to get better."

Phoenix Race Report
Start 29th
Finish 14th
Laps Completed (Led) 312 of 312 (0)
Points 30
Standings 5th (-17 pts to Leader)
Pitstops Laps 18, 61, 113, 135, 203, 229 and 248
Condition Running

 

Standings
After AAA 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Brad Keselowski 2140 0
2 -- Joey Logano 2136 -4
3 -- Kevin Harvick 2123 -17
4 -- Jimmie Johnson 2121 -19
5 +2 Jeff Gordon 2117 -23
6 -1 Kyle Busch 2111 -29
7 -1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2104 -36
8 -- Matt Kenseth 2097 -43
9 +3 Ryan Newman 2091 -49
10 -1 Carl Edwards 2091 -49
11 +2 Denny Hamlin 2081 -59
12 -1 Kasey Kahne 2079 -61
Full Standings