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Driver 88 Finishes 8th in Sprint Unlimited

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 2/16/2013
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Race: Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile superspeedway / 75 laps
Weather: Clear, 50 degrees
Race Winner: Kevin Harvick
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 8th

NASCAR’s Gen-6 era officially began Saturday night under the lights at Daytona International Speedway with the Sprint Unlimited. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth in the annual non-points exhibition race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway after being unable to muster a late-race charge in the race’s final 20 lap sprint to the finish.

Earnhardt Jr., who started 16th because of a fan-voted lineup based on the order in which drivers collected a pole award during the 2012 season, worked his way inside the top five in the race’s opening laps but found his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS unable to move any further. After moving as high as fifth, Earnhardt Jr. slipped to 17th when six cars were collected in an accident predicated by contact between Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose. Among those collected were Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

The opening 30 lap segment concluded with Stewart leading. The No. 88 team found themselves running 12th.

Dale Jr. began the second segment 10th but quickly moved inside the top five, running fourth for much of the 25 lap run. Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet made contact with the left rear of Earnhardt Jr.’s car causing minor damage to the left-rear quarter-panel midway through the segment. Opting to avoid risking further damage racing amongst the lead pack, Earnhardt Jr. lagged several seconds behind the leaders until the conclusion of segment two at lap 55.

Earnhardt Jr. began the final segment 12th and advanced to eighth by race’s end.

Kevin Harvick took the lead at lap 36 and never looked back. Harvick led 40 laps on the way to his third victory in the event in the past five years. Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Stewart and Matt Kenseth made up the top five.

DALE JR. POST-RACE QUOTES
How did the cars handle out there tonight?
"It was pretty good when we had more cars. I thought the racing was real good even with 12 cars in the second segment. At the end of the race, it was just few enough cars that when about eight or 10 of them started controlling the top line, the basically controlled the fate of everybody else. You really had to get more cars moving around, and going for the lead to get a little more racing, and a little more action. But, I thought what I saw the first segment and the second segment with just a few cars out there, it was pretty dicey."

Did the adjustments or whatever they did to fix the car after the second segment make it fine?
"I didn't really have any problems with my car. I don't think we changed anything. This is the car we tested and it didn't really run that great when we tested it. I could get run and charge up into the top-five, but it didn't like the clean air up there. It got real draggy, just real slow up front. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) had a great car, and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) was real fast, but he's real sharp at plate racing too. The No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) had a good car. I just didn't make enough of the right moves or have enough car to get it going there."

You said it sounded sick.
"Well, I thought I had an issue with the engine, but it was just the draft was easy to lose. With this little spoiler on the back, it's really easy to lose the draft because the air gets to your nose pretty quick, and the distance of the draft isn't as far back as it used to be off the car in front of you. So, you can lose it pretty easily. You have to be real careful. Me and the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) both lost it right there at the end of the second segment."

So drafting is going to be different with this car?
"It's different than it was last year for sure from what I saw in that race. You could still push guys, which we always...we pushed guys for years and years and years and years. Even before the COT, we were pushing each other down the straightaways and stuff. I think you can still do that. Everybody's just got to kind of learn how we have to do it differently now. Everybody's just got to go through trial and error on how to it. What works and what doesn't."

There was a wreck early in testing. There was a wreck early in practice yesterday. There was a wreck early in this race. Have you guys had enough chance to learn with a lot of cars out there?
"No, not really. A lot of the guys that weren't in this race haven't been in real race conditions with this car yet. So, half the field still has a lot to learn; a crash course you know. I think. So I think you are going to see a little bit of the same in the (Daytona) 500. Maybe even in one or two of the qualifiers. The qualifiers have always kind of been that way anyway. You always had one that had a big crash in it, and then one that was caution free. The bumpers aren't perfect. They are imperfect when they line up, and that is going to cause some action and some drama out there. That is the way it used to be, and I think everybody is okay with that. The drafting and the way you work the draft, I think everybody is still kind of learning that. I learned a lot tonight, but I still think there is tons to learn."

What do you know now that you didn't know before this race?
"Just a lot of little nuances about the draft. I had a good run on the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) going into third in the second segment. My run was really strong, and I thought it would be enough to clear him, and it wasn't. The car died out pretty quick when I got down to the bottom in the clean air. Technically I thought that would be an easy pass. Hopefully the 500 car has that kind of muscle, and maybe just this car didn't. Passing is a bit of a challenge. You have to know what you are doing, and work the momentum and see what is happening around you. It is a good challenge. I think it is really challenging. Not just pushing the car as far as you can push it, and as hard as you can push it. You have got to really think about what you are doing up there and what decisions you make, and what lines you get in. We haven't had to worry about what line you get in for year, so that is kind of neat wondering whether the top or the bottom is going to move. Lot of different things happening out there, and everybody is just going to have to learn what works and what doesn't."

Sprint Unlimited Race Report
Start 16th
Finish 8th
Laps Completed (Led) 75 of 75 (0)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +3 Kevin Harvick 5043 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 5042 -1
3 -2 Denny Hamlin 5037 -6
4 -2 Joey Logano 5028 -15
5 -- Brad Keselowski 2361 -2682
6 -- Jeff Gordon 2348 -2695
7 -- Matt Kenseth 2334 -2709
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Carl Edwards 2288 -2755
10 -2 Kyle Busch 2285 -2758
11 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2274 -2769
12 +2 Kurt Busch 2263 -2780
Full Standings