Monster Lap for Earnhardt Jr.
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 27, 2013 | 4:17 P.M. EST
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s lap of 161.849 mph set the 17th track record of the season. (Photo: Getty Images)
DOVER, Del. - Now comes the challenging part for Dale Earnhardt Jr. - how to make his car better on Dover International Speedway’s concrete surface.
Earnhardt claimed his second pole of the season Friday with a track-record lap of 161.849 mph. The top six broke the previous record of 161.522 by Jeremy Mayfield in 2004.
Points leader Matt Kenseth, who has won the first two Chase races, qualified second. Ryan Newman is third with Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola completing the top five. Defending champion Brad Keselowski qualified sixth and was the last car to break the track record.
Kyle Busch, who is second in the points, qualified 14th. Jimmie Johnson, who is third in the points, qualified eight.
This marks the 17th track record set this season.
Earnhardt’s 13th career pole now turns the focus to finding the right adjustments for Saturday’s practice and Sunday’s race.
“We’ve got information, but you’ve got to make a lot of gut decisions,’’ he said of the challenge he faces racing at Dover.
Although he wishes Dover was an asphalt track, he’s finished 11th or better each of the last three races at this 1-mile banked track.
“When the car is good you can make a few mistakes on the way you set the car up,’’ he said. “Every week it’s different. Just like last week. I thought we were one of the best cars Saturday, and Sunday we were just about a fifth-place car.’’
He and crew chief Steve Letarate made the right calls in qualifying. Friday marked the first time since 2002 that Earnhardt has had multiple poles in the same season.
“Me and Steve, since we first started working together, we’ve gotten better each year,’’ Earnhardt said. “One of the things we started focusing on last year was qualifying, and I think that’s rolled over into this season. We’ve continued to put importance on that and tried to improve on that.’’
He was good enough to nip Kenseth, who qualified at 161.805 mph.
“Just got too free and lost too much time,’’ said Kenseth, who has qualified in the top 10 each of the past six races. “In a way that bums me out a little bit. Really happy for Dale Jr. It will be fun to share the front row with him.’’
Earnhardt said he wasn’t disappointed that he was starting next to the man he’s chasing for the title.
“I expect our competition to be tough every weekend,’’ said Earnhardt, who trails Kenseth by 62 points. “Nothing really surprises me when they perform well.
“We’re not really going to count points. I’m not going to sit here and figure out how far I’m behind and come up with some equation that I need to perfect to gain points each week. We’re just going to show up and drive hard, be smart. If we can unload great cars like this, it makes that all easier.
“We’re going to try to win some races before the year is out. I’d be really disappointed if we don’t win a race this season because I think we’re a better team than last year. We’ve come so close so many times. We’d like to get out there and get some trophies. The points will take care of themselves when you’re doing that.’’