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Second Half Surge Gives Junior 7th at Texas

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 11/4/2012
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Race: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile quad oval / 334 laps
Weather: Sunny, 75 degrees
Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 7th

Just when it seemed the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet would remain mired outside the top 15 at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a second-half charge to score a seventh-place finish in the AAA Texas 500. The finish marks the fourth consecutive top-10 finish for the No. 88 team at the 1.5-mile quad-oval where Earnhardt scored his first career victory in 2000.

From his 19th-place starting position, Dale Jr. breezed his way into the top 15 early on before developing a recurring handling issue that plagued the team for much of the night – tight in the center of the corners. Letarte called for air pressure and wedge adjustments trying to help his driver but the No. 88 car found itself as low as 21st during the race’s middle stages.

After undoing many adjustments the team had made over the course of the race’s opening 200 laps, Earnhardt found himself progressing through the field after restarting 15th at lap 228. The No. 88 team gained five positions over the race’s next 48 laps before hitting pit road at lap 276.

The spotlight of the night shined brightest on pit road where Earnhardt constantly gained positions with crafty work by the over-the-wall group. When Dale Jr. hit road running 10th at lap 276, his team gained five positions to catapult their driver to fifth – a position the team would maintain until a green-white-checkered finish.

A myriad of late cautions saw Dale Jr. move as high as fourth, but a two-lap sprint to the finish shuffled the No. 88 Chevrolet back to seventh at the checkered flag.

Earnhardt received a front row seat for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship battle playing out as Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski battled side-by-side, making contact over the race’s final 10 laps with Johnson earning the victory and taking a seven-point lead to next weekend’s penultimate race at Phoenix Raceway.

DALE JR. POST-RACE QUOTES
On the green-white-checkered restart?
“Well we just restarted on the outside and it’s a little tough out there to make any ground. We had been on the inside all day making up time. We had a pretty good car at the start of the race. We dialed it way out and got real slow and made some great changes near the end. The pit crew really did a good job, they gained us about eight spots on pit road there those last two stops. Just real happy with the way we were able to rebound. I would have liked to have run in the top-five maybe been a little closer to the front, but we definitely run a little bit better like we should.”

On watching Keselowski and Johnson race?
“That was pretty crazy. I was thinking I might have a shot to win if they kept on going like that. Somebody else might win the race, but I was glad to see Jimmie (Johnson) take it at the end. What a battle this championship is. Brad (Keselowski) is putting up an awesome fight. He hadn’t really run good here. His stats were terrible for this place and they came in and they did their work. They have been real impressive. But I’m a company man so I’m glad HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) is on top tonight.”

On Chevrolet's 700th win?
“I’m proud of my Chevy heritage, and happy for the success that Chevy has had in the sport. I’m glad that Hendrick Motorsports was able to bring the 700th win. That is a big deal for Rick (Hendrick). He’s got a great relationship with Chevrolet, and he is proud to do that for them. We want Chevrolet to be on top. Milestones like that certainly put it there.”

Texas Race Report
Start 19th
Finish 7th
Laps Completed (Led) 335 of 335 (0)
Pit Stops Laps 44, 88, 101, 110, 164, 187, 224, 276 and 312
Standings (from leader) 12th (-151)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After GEICO 500
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Joey Logano 3121 0
2 +1 Kevin Harvick 3117 -4
3 +1 Ryan Newman 3117 -4
4 +3 Denny Hamlin 3100 -21
5 +4 Matt Kenseth 3099 -22
6 -1 Carl Edwards 3099 -22
7 -1 Jeff Gordon 3093 -28
8 -- Kasey Kahne 3090 -31
9 -7 Kyle Busch 3086 -35
10 -- Brad Keselowski 3085 -36
11 -- Jimmie Johnson 3053 -68
12 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3045 -76
Full Standings