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Dale Jr. Notches Top-Five Finish at Kentucky

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 6/28/2014
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Race: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 73 degrees
Race Winner: Brad Keselowski
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 5th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted his series-leading ninth top-five finish of the season with a fifth-place effort in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. Earnhardt Jr.’s five consecutive top-10 finishes have him third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after 17 races.

Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 National Guard team faced an uphill climb from the 29th-starting position. As has been a trend on the season, that task was not too much for Earnhardt Jr. and company to overcome. Early on the No. 88 moved through the field before a lap-29 caution gave Earnhardt Jr. and others their first opportunity to pit. For crew chief Steve Letarte, the caution presented his first chance to employ his race strategy as his decision to give Earnhardt Jr. two-fresh tires boosted his driver into the top 10.

From that point, Earnhardt Jr. raced inside the top 10 for the balance of the event. During a cycle of green-flag pit stops at lap 213, the yellow flag waved while Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman were on pit road. The caution slowed the field while the trio received four fresh tires and remained on the lead lap. When the other leaders pitted under the caution, Earnhardt Jr. moved to a race-high third position for the final restart with 49 laps to go.

Matt Kenseth made a bold move to force Earnhardt Jr. to the middle of three-wide racing on the restart, shuffling Earnhardt Jr. to seventh by the time the field made a single lap. After recovering, Earnhardt Jr. began moving back towards the front. In the late laps, Earnhardt Jr. bypassed Kevin Harvick to slot in fifth where he’d take the checkered flag.

Brad Keselowski dominated the race leading 199 of the race’s 267 laps. Busch, Newman, Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five.

DALE JR. QUOTES
“I didn’t have any answers for why we were struggling yesterday. Steve and the engineers got in the hauler, and talked all night long and all day today and put a great car underneath us. The pit crew did an amazing job tonight. Those guys were gaining spots for me every stop. Even when we were taking four tires, we were beating a lot of guys off pit road. They’re just a great group and deserve a lot of credit too. The National Guard Chevy was way better today; a lot more fun to drive. This place is a bit of a handful for me. I don’t think I’ve got it figured out just yet. I don’t really know exactly what I’m looking for and how I need the car to drive. Steve and the guys did a good job on having to deal with me and trying to put a good car under me this weekend. It was a lot of fun in the race. Strategy was great on pit road. Steve’s fuel strategy gave us a lot of track position.”

Kentucky Race Report
Start 29th
Finish 5th
Laps Completed (Led) 267 of 267 (0)
Standings (From Leader) 3rd (-24)
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