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Earnhardt Logs Solid Top-10 Finish at Bristol

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 8/24/2013
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Race: IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway
Track Specs: .526-mile concrete oval
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees
Race Winner: Matt Kenseth
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 10th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. improved his standing in the quest to qualify for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with a 10th-place finish Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt rocketed forward from the drop of the green flag moving up eight spots from his 19th-place starting position to 11th in the first 10 laps. His No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet ran seventh when Steve Letarte elected to keep Earnhardt on the track under the night’s second caution at lap 91. That move gave Junior the lead for the next 32 laps before the No. 88 settled into a top-five position.

Letarte gave Earnhardt four tires and fuel under caution at lap 336 with the intent to attempt stretching fuel mileage the final 165 laps to the finish. Earnhardt ran fifth when a multi-car accident collected several other Chase contenders at lap 447. The uncertainty of being able to make the run to the finish on fuel, coupled with trouble for other contenders, led Letarte to bring Earnhardt to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel to guarantee a solid finish.

Earnhardt restarted 15th with 47 laps to go and climbed to 10th at the checkered flag. The finish gives the No. 88 team a 33-point advantage over 11th-place Brad Keselowski with only two races remaining until the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

DALE JR. QUOTES
On the decision not to risk stretching fuel mileage…
“It was a risk we couldn’t take tonight. We gave up about maybe five points there and hopefully making sure we got the fuel to finish the race and getting a 10th-place finish will pay off for us here in the next couple weeks.

Were you comfortable taking the risk to stretch it to the finish?
“Yeah. We were still five (laps) short if we didn’t have any yellows. It was five laps short and you just don’t know if you’ve saved enough under caution shutting the car off and stuff. If we were past Richmond (Sept. 7), we would have gambled and went for it and I believe that because earlier in the season, we would have gambled and went for it. But under the circumstances, we didn’t have the freedom to do that. As much as I hate to say what could have happened, we could have finished in the top five, or top three even. Considering what happened to guys behind us in points, I think we had to do the right thing, or the smart thing anyways.”

Can this run turn things around for you after the last couple weeks?
“The car was really good. Steve (Letarte) and I worked on the car real hard on Friday. We still weren’t right where we wanted to be. Him and Kevin Meendering, my lead engineer, studied all this morning and came up with a couple changes that I think we really needed to help the car. Steve put his heart in it and the car was great at the start of the race. We picked off cars real quick and moved up real fast. We were able to lead a couple laps and get some points there. The car was pretty good; definitely a top-five car all night, especially at the end of the race. I think it was really dialed in.”

On standing in the Chase…
“I really don’t know how much we gained on everybody tonight but we definitely needed to build on that cushion. That 20-points (advantage over 11th entering Bristol) really had me pretty nervous. Hopefully we ran put another good one together next week; something similar or better than this, we’ll definitely go into Richmond a lot more comfortable.”

Bristol Race Report
Start 19th
Finish 10th
Laps Completed (Led) 500 of 500 (32)
Standings (from leader) 7th (-107)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +6 Jeff Gordon 4044 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 4041 -3
3 -2 Joey Logano 4040 -4
4 +1 Matt Kenseth 4039 -5
5 -1 Denny Hamlin 4037 -7
6 -- Carl Edwards 4024 -20
7 +1 Brad Keselowski 4013 -31
8 -6 Kevin Harvick 4011 -33
9 -- Kyle Busch 2230 -1814
10 +2 AJ Allmendinger 2198 -1846
11 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2196 -1848
12 -2 Jimmie Johnson 2186 -1858
Full Standings