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Dale Jr. Battles for 3rd at Martinsville

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 3/30/2014
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Race: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile superspeedway
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 51 degrees
Race Winner: Kurt Busch
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 3rd

Dale Earnhardt Jr. reclaimed the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead with a third-place finish in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Earnhardt Jr.’s fourth finish of third or better in six races this season, and 11th top-five at the .526-mile oval, gives the No. 88 team a nine-point advantage over Matt Kenseth in the series standings.

Having no practice Saturday because of persistent rainfall and a car that admittedly lacked overall speed, Earnhardt Jr. began his climb from the 26th-starting position from the drop of the green flag. He patiently worked his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet through the field concentrating on managing tire wear as many other drivers experienced drastic changes in their car’s handling over lengthy green-flag stints.

Earnhardt Jr. entered the top 10 shortly after the lap-100 mark and spent the remainder of the afternoon battling amongst the lead group. Shortly before the race's halfway point, crew chief Steve Letarte chose to keep Earnhardt Jr. on the track under caution while many other teams elected to pit. The gutsy move gave the No. 88 the lead for 25 laps.

In the final 100 laps, Earnhardt Jr. overcame several restarts on the unfavorable outside lane to maintain a running position inside the top seven. After the race’s final caution for Carl Edwards' spin at lap 459, Earnhardt Jr. and the other leaders hit pit road for a final stop. Quick work by the No. 88 crew put Earnhardt Jr. fifth for the final restart.

After settling into fifth for several laps, Earnhardt Jr. pounced on Aric Almirola’s No. 43 car for fourth and eventually Joey Logano’s No. 22 for third.

Kurt Busch held off eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson in the final laps to capture his first victory of the season with Earnhardt Jr. third, Joey Logano fourth and Marcos Ambrose fifth.

DALE JR. QUOTES
“We didn’t like our car at all Friday. The guys worked really hard trying to improve it and we had a pretty good race car at the end (of the race). We had to save tires all day and that kept us up towards the top 10, just keeping the left-rear tire on it. Then when it was time to go there at the end, we had a little bit of race car but it ran out pretty quick. We were out of tires there with 10 laps to go. A couple of lap guys gave me the outside lane in the corner. I would have rather had the bottom. That’s no big deal but that cost us a little bit of time and maybe some wear and tear on the tires. I’m pretty happy with the result for the Diet Mountain Dew Chevy.”

Martinsville Race Report
Start 26th
Finish 3rd
Laps Completed (Led) 500 of 500 (25)
Standings (from next) 1st (+9)
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