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Earnhardt Jr. keeps top-10 streak going

March 17, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Earnhardt Jr. keeps top-10 streak going
Second in points, streak is Junior's best start since 2008

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t entirely satisfied with his sixth-place finish in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but said he was pleased that he was able to ease out of town with his fourth consecutive top 10.

And a lot of the credit, he said, should go to crew chief Steve Letarte, whose late-race pit calls helped get the 38-year-old driver in position to race his way back into contention.

“We need to do a little bit better; (I’m) not real satisfied with the overall performance,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said, “but what Steve does on pit road is magic every week. He’s pretty sharp.”

"It was good to finally have it go our way."

-- Steve Letarte, No. 88 crew chief

Earnhardt is now second in the point standings after four races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. He trails defending series champion Brad Keselowski by nine points (166-157).

Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, the previous points leader, finished 22nd due to a late-race problem and dropped to third in points.

It was Earnhardt’s best finish since placing fifth on the fast, high-banked half-mile in 2008.

Starting deep in the field at a race track that had been cleaned of rubber by overnight rains, Earnhardt raced his way into 12th by Lap 75 of the 500-lap event. Traffic and track position, however, kept him from moving forward until the latter stages of the race began to play out.

He was 18th with just under 100 laps remaining, and just outside the top 10 when the race resumed with 40 laps left on the board.

“We didn’t loosen the car up enough as the race went on,” he said. “Steve saw what was happening there and the last couple of adjustments really helped me. And I was able to take a little bit better tires and get around some guys and make some ground up and salvage a good finish. …  The last 150 laps he made a lot of good pit calls -- two or three that really put us in position to get that finish.”

Letarte said it was a combination of things finally coming together at a track where the team has been mostly mediocre in recent outings.

“Luckily it came out way,” he said. “We’ve really struggled with completing good races here. We’ve had better cars here. We’ve made pit-road mistakes, pit strategy mistakes. It was good to finally have it go our way.

“I wish we had had a little better car … maybe we could have finally won one. But to finish sixth with about a 10th-place car, that’s always a good day.”

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