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Dale Jr. Charges to Finish 6th at Bristol

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 3/17/2013
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Race: Food City 500
Track Specs: .533-mile concrete oval
Weather: Cloudy, 56 degrees
Race Winner: Kasey Kahne
Dale Jr.'s Finish: 6th

Persistence, patience and teamwork proved to be the driving factors that delivered Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 National Guard team a sixth-place finish in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The finish, Earnhardt Jr.’s fourth consecutive of better than seventh to open the 2013 season, vaults the No. 88 team to second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Mired back in the field due to a 32nd-place qualifying position, Earnhardt Jr. wasted little time maneuvering his Chevrolet inside the top 20 by lap 50 and into the top 10 only 85 laps in to the 500-lap event at the Bristol bullring. Peaking as high as ninth in the race’s first half, Earnhardt Jr.’s charge forward stalled and left crew chief Steve Letarte searching for the right adjustments to make Earnhardt Jr.’s a top-five contender. Morning rain showers washed away rubber buildup from Saturday’s 300-lap NASCAR Nationwide Series event and threw drivers and teams a curveball as drivers complained their car’s handling was too tight. With fewer than 20 cars on the lead lap, Earnhardt Jr. pitted five times in the race’s final 200 laps in hopes of finding a balance for the National Guard Chevrolet.

The race-changing moment for Earnhardt Jr. came when Letarte elected to give his driver fresh left-side tires at lap 349. Restarting 13th, Earnhardt Jr. made vintage moves racing through traffic, passing cars predominantly on the inside as he raced his way to a sixth-place finish.

Earnhardt Jr. now trails series leader Brad Keselowski by nine points after four events heading to next Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Earnhardt Jr. finished third at the 2-mile track in 2012.

DALE JR. QUOTES
On today's race...
"I have to give all the credit to Steve Letarte (crew chief). He made a couple, two, three great pit calls there at the end, and gave us the opportunity to get some guys on some old tires, and beat a few guys that we probably weren't going to beat. Great call by him. We drove a pretty good race. He made a great couple of adjustments at the end. We were really getting behind on the race track; we were getting really, really tight and falling back. Made a couple of good calls on taking some wedge out and stuff like that to help the car. Give him and the team a lot of credit. They did a great job today."

What are your thoughts on the race?
“The track was really tightening up fast and caught us off guard and we weren’t really ready for it but we made some great changes at the end and Steve (crew chief, Letarte) had some great strategy on the tires and we were able to salvage a good finish. We got the car running better and I have to give the car a lot of credit, but Steve deserves the most credit because the strategy that he ran there in the last 150 laps really got us our track position.”

What could you have done differently?
“Well, we knew that the track was green when the race started and we didn’t loosen the car up enough as the race went on and just…. I don’t know if I, or Steve (Letarte) could have done a better job there. Steve saw what was happening there and the last couple of adjustments really helped me. I was able to take a little better tires and made some ground, and got around some guys and salvaged a good finish. Lot of credit to Steve because that was a great call on his part and all the last 150 laps he made a lot of good pit calls.

“There were two or three that really allowed us to get in position to get a decent finish and we had a lot of attrition today too as a lot of guys wrecked out and that certainly makes your day easier when you aren’t racing the whole field out there. So we have to do a little bit better and I am not real satisfied with the overall performance but what Steve does on pit road is magic every week. He is pretty sharp.”

Bristol Race Report
Start 32nd
Finish 6th
Laps Completed (Led) 500 of 500 (0)
Standings (from leader) 2nd (-9)
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