Earnhardt Jr. Back on Top

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"Just real happy with how things are going for our team.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the Sprint Cup Series point lead after his second-place finish in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has already collected five top 10 finishes in the first quintet of races this season; the only driver to accomplish that feat in 2013. Earnhardt Jr. took over the series point lead by twelve after his runner-up finish to Kyle Busch on Sunday.

But it wasn’t easy by any means.

Earnhardt had a fast car all day but a bobble on pit road during a tire change dropped him back to 22nd place. He was able to charge his way through the field and took advantage of the last lap fireworks between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin to notch the runner-up effort.

“Yeah, I wasn't racing up there, so I couldn't really get a good view of it, but I was running around the bottom of the corner, and I knew they were going to they were slowing up and battling real hard, so I was just trying to get what I could get,” Earnhardt explained.

“I felt like on the back straightaway Kyle had the best shot at winning the race because those two guys were slowing down running so hard. Just lucky we were able to get by on the inside there.”

Despite the pit road hiccup, Earnhardt and the No. 88 team stuck together and fought through the mishap. It’s been that kind of team cohesiveness that Earnhardt says has helped him climb back into the series point lead.

“Yeah, we had a little problem on pit road on one of our stops and lost a lot of positions,” said Earnhardt. “But we've always we just stick together, and everybody was just kind of patted each other on the back and we was going to get another chance to redeem ourselves on pit road. We had a good car.

“On that next restart we drove back up to 10th before the next caution, so I felt like we were back up in position to run well and everything was fine. We got a good pit stop on the next caution and put that mistake behind us.”

So Sunday’s wild race is in the rear view mirror for everyone as the Sprint Cup Series takes the Easter weekend off. Earnhardt will savor the end result of the crazy trip to Southern California and hope to pick up where he left off when the schedule resumes at Martinsville Speedway.

“You know, then the race sort of got weird,” Earnhardt said of the second half of the Auto Club 400. “I'm not sure exactly when we would take two tires, our car drove really bad. It just didn't like that old left rear on there, and it would we'd just get really, really loose. So that was giving me some problems. And we were fading there at the end of the race, but we got an opportunity to fix it when we got that late caution.

“But yeah, we just stick together. We got we were pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody. Just riding the wave. Just real happy with how things are going for our team."

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