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Junior Salvages 13th at Loudon

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 9/23/2012
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Race: Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.058-mile oval / 300 laps
Weather: Clear, 66 degrees
Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 13th
Dale Jr.’s Chase Standing: 7th (-26 pts to Johnson)

When the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is awarded at Homestead-Miami Speedway, races like Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will go a long way in determining the final result for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team. Earnhardt salvaged a 13th-place finish in the Sylvania 300 after battling an ill-handling Chevrolet all afternoon. Earnhardt leaves Chase Race No. 2 seventh in the standings trailing Jimmie Johnson by 26 points.

Despite finishing fourth in the July event at New Hampshire, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte found themselves searching for speed in the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet from the time they unloaded Friday. Dale Jr. charged into the top 10 in the race’s opening six laps and entered pit road ninth for the team’s first stop of the race on lap 42. Earnhardt slid too far into his pit box and over the front tire changer’s air hose, causing a slow pit stop dropping the team to 19th.

Earnhardt found himself at a stalemate after restarting 19th on lap 46. Earnhardt and Letarte found themselves battling a tight race car, particularly in the center of New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s tight turns, and lacking grip off the turns. The No. 88 team spent the final 200 mire between 11th and 18th with little progression.

Letarte elected to give Earnhardt two fresh right-side tires on a green flag pit stop on lap 243. The call moved Dale Jr. from 17th to 11th. Over the next 30 laps, Earnhardt slid to 14th-place before the race’s final caution for debris brought the team back to pit road for four fresh tires. In the final 25-lap sprint to the checkered flag, Earnhardt worked his way around fellow Chase contender Matt Kenseth to take 13th by race’s end.

Denny Hamlin proved to be the class of the field Sunday, leading 193 laps after starting 32nd to take his fifth victory this season. Johnson was the runner-up finisher for the second-consecutive week to take the championship points lead by one point over Brad Keselowski.

Loudon Race Report
Start 14th
Finish 13th
Laps Completed (Led) 300 of 300 (0)
Pit Stops Laps 42 (2 tires), 106, 131, 179, 243 (2 tires) and 274
Standings (from leader) 7th (-26)
Condition Running
Standings
After Pure Michigan 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +1 Jeff Gordon 816 0
2 -1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 813 -3
3 +1 Brad Keselowski 733 -83
4 +1 Joey Logano 714 -102
5 -2 Matt Kenseth 709 -107
6 +2 Kevin Harvick 687 -129
7 -- Jimmie Johnson 686 -130
8 -2 Carl Edwards 679 -137
9 -- Ryan Newman 679 -137
10 +1 Clint Bowyer 672 -144
11 +1 Greg Biffle 660 -156
12 +1 Kasey Kahne 651 -165
Full Standings