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Dale Jr. Races Backup Car to 4th at Michigan

By Mike Davis, Hendrick Motorsports | Race Report Published 8/19/2012
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Race: Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway
Track Specs: 2-mile oval/ 200 Laps
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 74 degrees
Race Winner: Greg Biffle
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 4th

It wasn’t a repeat win at Michigan for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but the Sunday drive might’ve been just as impressive. A practice-crash on Saturday forced Earnhardt to start Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the rear of the field with a car that had no practice laps, and yet he still managed to score his 10th top-five finish of the season and improve one spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.

Earnhardt finished fourth in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 and climbed to third in points. With three races to go in NASCAR's “regular season”, Earnhardt is 22 points behind leader Greg Biffle and two points behind second-place Matt Kenseth. He is six points in front of fourth-place Jimmie Johnson. What’s more for Earnhardt, Sunday’s finish righted the ship, so to speak, as his last two races at Pocono and Watkins Glen had produced finishes of 32nd and 28th.

With the backup car Earnhardt led 25 laps on Sunday, second-most only to Mark Martin’s total of 54. Junior was leading the way in his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet until Johnson passed him on lap 152 of 200. Earnhardt never recaptured the lead, although he had two restarts in the final 14 laps that made it interesting. On a lap-186 restart (following the race’s seventh caution), Earnhardt’s line bottled up when Kasey Kahne missed a shift, and the momentum was lost. Johnson took the lead from Brad Keselowski but found trouble when his engine expired five laps from the end.

A lap-198 restart again saw Earnhardt in fourth place on the outside row. This time he passed Edwards for third but Kahne slid by and took the position away from both. Junior crossed the line in the same spot he took the restart, but 39 spots in front of where he started the afternoon. Meanwhile in front, Biffle outlasted Keselowski to take the victory and reclaim the points lead. It is Biffle’s second win of the season.

As the Chase for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship nears, Earnhardt’s season totals now look like this: one win, 10 top-fives, 16 top-10s, and 260 laps led. The series now heads to Bristol for the famous “Bristol night race” next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

DALE JR. POST-RACE QUOTES
“Today I felt like I was under a lot of pressure just to not make mistakes. I had spun out twice in the last two weeks on my own, and that’s something I try not to let happen. I don’t want to have that kind of reputation. I felt real bad last night about wrecking the car (in Saturday’s final practice) and all the hard work the guys had to do to get this back-up car ready. They had to stay in the garage a little extra yesterday to get the car ready, and they pored through notes and documents on that car all through the night just to get it competitive and ready to put on the starting grid today. They did an awesome job, so I give my crew and all those guys the credit. Steve did a good job getting us some track position with his pit strategy. We had a pretty good car, maybe not enough to win, but it had good speed.”

Michigan Race Report
Start 22nd (43rd due to practice crash)
Finish 4th
Laps Completed (Led) 201 of 201 (25)
Pit Stops Laps 8 (gas only), 44 (2 tires), 65 (2 tires), 90 (gas only), 124 and 163 (2 tires)
Standings (from leader) 3rd (-22)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After Bojangles Southern 500
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Jeff Gordon 297 0
2 -- Matt Kenseth 296 -1
3 -- Carl Edwards 278 -19
4 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 271 -26
5 +2 Jimmie Johnson 270 -27
6 -1 Kyle Busch 269 -28
7 +1 Brad Keselowski 246 -51
8 -4 Joey Logano 245 -52
9 +2 Ryan Newman 236 -61
10 +2 Austin Dillon # 235 -62
11 +5 Greg Biffle 227 -70
12 +2 Tony Stewart 224 -73
Full Standings