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Sprint Cup Series


As sun sets at Charlotte, so does Junior's speed

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

RELATED: Full race results | Updated series standings

CONCORD, N.C. -- In a race punctuated by long, green-flag runs, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went from 25th
 to 10th in the opening 60 laps of Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

While most of those in the top 10 were holding their own, Earnhardt and Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing) were on the move. Larson had started 24th
 and cracked the top 10 after only 40 laps on the 1.5-mile track. Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet climbed as high as seventh early.

But as daylight turned to darkness and the track temperature cooled, Earnhardt's fortunes also waned.

"We made a ton of changes all night trying to help the car," Earnhardt, 14th
 at the finish, said. "We were stuck there around 11th and couldn't move forward.

"The way it took off at the start of the race I thought it showed a lot of promise. There were times in the race when we ran top-five laps but track position hurt us, the track cooled off and everybody was running the bottom. It was just hard to pass."

Restart opportunities were few -- the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' longest race at 600 miles was slowed only four times by caution flags.

The final yellow, for debris on the backstretch, fell with only 60 laps remaining and Earnhardt already on pit road. By taking the wave-around, he was able to remain on the lead lap, but not allowed to pit under the yellow.

"When they don't throw the debris cautions, we're going to have a lot of green flag (stops)," he said. "We got caught on pit road when one of those debris cautions came out late in the race and it bit us.

"There wasn't any debris out on the track (for much of the race) so there wasn't any use in throwing the yellow; they didn't and we ran green."

With three second-place finishes in the first eight races, Earnhardt had been as high as sixth in points. But recent weeks haven't been as kind to the team. Sunday's result was his seventh outside the top 10 and he's winless through the season's first 13 stops.

He'll head to Pocono Raceway next weekend 13th
 in points.

"We were doing OK, running about 10th
, 11th all night," he said. "When the race started, the car was great and we moved all the way up to seventh.

"I was really happy with the car, but when it got cool the top (groove) went away. The track cooled off, the bottom gripped up and that's where everybody ran."

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