By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a great race Sunday in the Toyota Owner’s 400 at Richmond International Raceway, unfortunately it won’t be remembered that way after he finished an unimpressive 13th.
Earnhardt, who was looking for a weekend sweep after winning the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, started the day from the 16th position, and for the first half of the race he looked to have a 12th-place car. However, as the race got into the closing stages Earnhardt and his crew chief Greg Ives kept tuning the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, and it looked like it could be a special day.
“We did a good job all day long. Greg [Ives, crew chief] was giving me some good adjustments to get the car better,” Earnhardt explained after the race. We weren’t that good at the start of the race.”
At lap 310, Earnhardt worked past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for fifth and his car looked to be getting stronger as the finish loomed on the horizon. However several cautions over the next few laps and cooling track temperatures ruined the handling on Earnhardt’s car for the run to the finish.
“We got tight at the end. I don’t know. We couldn’t keep our track positon,” Earnhardt said. “The car wasn’t turning in the middle. I didn’t like restarting on the bottom that hurt me a little bit. We just couldn’t get the car to turn at the end. The last two runs were real tight. I’m not sure exactly what we should have done to the chassis, but we certainly didn’t keep up with the track there.”
Earnhardt continued by explaining that his car wasn’t setup for short runs, which is what occurred at the end of the race.
“All of those debris cautions hurt us. We didn’t have good short run speed. We needed the long runs and didn’t really need that,” Earnhardt said. “Those last several cautions kind of tightened the track up on me a little bit. I just wish it would have gone green, but it didn’t.”
On each ensuing restart, more and more cars worked their way around the No. 88. As the field crossed the line at lap 400, Earnhardt who looked like a sure-fire top-five finisher just 90 laps earlier, wound up 13th.
In finishing 13th, Earnhardt now slips a spot in the point standings to seventh. As he has yet to win a race this year, a berth in this year’s Chase is still anything but guaranteed for Earnhardt, yet there shouldn’t be any worry just yet for Jr. Nation. Earnhardt has shown speed all season long, and next on the schedule is one of Earnhardt’s best tracks — Talladega.
Last year at Talladega, Earnhardt won the spring race, and finished second in the fall event at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
Image: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images