The 2017 season has not gone the way that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team planned for it to go, but in his final race at Dover on Sunday, Earnhardt showed the kind of speed that he has been lacking for the majority of the season and came away with a seventh-place finish.
Not only was it Earnhardt’s best finish at Dover since the fall race in 2015, but it also his first top-10 finish since Sonoma back in June.
“It feels good,” said Earnhardt. “This team is really a good team and we have just had a lot of odd misfortune and we have ill-prepared ourselves at times. When the car is good, it seems like we have some bad luck. Then there are weekends where we just can’t get the car right. It’s been a pretty down year but hopefully this weekend is the start of some more good runs. I think we will end this thing strong and I am excited.
“We probably showed a little bit more speed at different times during the weekend than where we ended up. I was talking to (Ryan) Blaney last night and he said, ‘man, you guys are so fast.’ And I told him I would just take a top ten after the year that I have had. I know the car was good enough to run in the top five and we showed that at certain points in the race and certain points of the weekend too.”
From the start of the race weekend, Earnhardt was fast right off of the truck, qualifying in seventh place and finishing one of the practice sessions in second. When the green flag flew on Sunday, the speed from earlier in the weekend translated seamlessly into race day as he climbed up to third place by lap 40.
After green flag pit stops near the end of the first stage, Earnhardt would wind up getting trapped a lap down when the caution flew, but was able to take the wave around and restart in 10th place. He would eventually finish the first stage in 12th.
Stage two would see Earnhardt climb back into the top-10 and foreshadow how the race would end for his team as he finished the stage in seventh.
The final stage was more of the same for the No. 88 team as Earnhardt found himself in the top-five, moving as high as second before the final round of green flag pit stops began. When everything cycled through, Earnhardt was back in seventh place, where he would remain for the rest of the day.
With his seventh-place run, Earnhardt now has five top-10 finishes on the season as he has just seven races remaining in his final season as a full-time Cup Series driver.
“We have been trying some stuff,” Earnhardt added. “If you look at our car and how we have run…I know it’s kind of hard to see, but we ran really good at Darlington and it carried over to Richmond. We had a strong run there and we were really good on the long runs there. We brought some of those same principles to Dover. Some of that stuff can probably carry over. I am optimistic that our performance is on the uptick and we will see how it works out for next week.”