Junior To The Point

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. started fourth in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet and finished third after circling the .562-mile track 500 times. The finish pushed Earnhardt into the Nextel Cup Series point lead.

Earnhardt, Jr. was a top-10 contender throughout the race and led twice for 154 laps. The only time he dropped back was when a loose condition caused him to slip to 16th place. But, a timely caution brought him down pit road for adjustments.

The pit crew was on their game as stops for tires and fuel helped him gain 2-3 positions each time. One time, the pit crew even propelled him into the lead coming off pit road.

“We started the race good, but I just wore the rear tires off of it,” Dale Jr. said. “It was so bad I thought I had a flat and we lost a lot of positions. We had to adjust on it to get the car where it wouldn’t do that again.

“I think the biggest difference for us was the pit stops. I know one time I came in sixth and went out fourth, and another time I came in fourth and went out first.

“The guys really did a great job on pit road.”

After a delay of 1:17 minutes to repair a large hole in the track, Dale Jr. fell from the lead to fifth. From there, he did battle, to the crowd’s delight, as he worked his way back up to third.

“I had the lead and I was just thinking, ‘Man, if I can just hold them off, I’ll finally get the win here.’ Then I went down in the corner and it wouldn’t turn. Rusty (Wallace, race winner) got under me then the 18 (Bobby Labonte) got under me and I was like, “Golly, I’m going backwards here.’ Yeah, it’s frustrating.

“Two times for sure - maybe three - we’ve been in the catbird seat and it just gets away from us somehow.”

Earnhardt earned his fifth, consecutive top-five finish at Martinsville, but has yet to break into the Winner’s Circle on the historic track. However, the good news is that he jumped from third to first in the Nextel Cup Series points standings and now leads second by five points.

This is the second time this year that Dale Jr. has led the points and first since Las Vegas.

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