Big Recovery for Earnhardt Jr.
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on September 29, 2013 | 8:31 P.M. EST
Earnhardt's first misadventure came early in the race when he overshot pit road and was forced to go back around the track before coming in for service, giving up the lead in the process. (Photo: Getty Images)
Earnhardt's first misadventure came early in the race when he overshot pit road and was forced to go back around the track before coming in for service, giving up the lead in the process.
Earnhardt's second pit road miscue happened when he got caught up in traffic behind Mark Martin on the final trip. He eventually was able to take four tires on the day's final stop and nearly ran down eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson before settling for second place.
“If you really look at the race as a whole, they did cost us a little bit, at least the mistake I made missing pit road completely,” said Earnhardt. “We had the lead, gave up the lead. Jimmie had the lead and was able to take advantage of that clean air when it counted.
“If I had not given up that track position, had a smart enough race to keep the lead when it counted right at the end, we might have won the race. It would have been hard to get by us, just like it was to get by Jimmie.”
The call for four tires by crew chief Steve Letarte nearly proved to be the decision to help Earnhardt end his 47-race winless drought. But although Earnhardt was able to close ground on Johnson, he wasn’t able to mount enough of a charge to get by for the top spot.
“I was just trying some different lines, seeing what might work,” Earnhardt explained about the closing laps of the race. “I ran the high line, gave up about four car lengths to him. Realized I needed to be back on the bottom. Went back down there and focused again.
“His car was good. I mean, I had to run perfect laps to maintain the pace that he had, just to not let the lead get any bigger, just hope that he'd start coming back to me there at the end. It was just a little bit too late.”
But after blowing an engine in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway and coming back with a sixth-place finish last week at New Hampshire, Earnhardt and company is at least heading back in the right direction.
“We came really close today,” said Earnhardt. “I don't feel like today was a highlight for us. I think this is how it's supposed to be every week. I know that competition's difficult and tough, Jimmie being one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen. Running at one of his better racetracks, it was going to be a challenge. But I felt like we had enough car and tires for sure to beat him.”