News & Media

Earnhardt Jr. takes another step forward at Texas

November 05, 2012, David Caraviello,

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Seventh-place finish the best run he's had since returning from concussion

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, but a strong run allowed him to find some closure regarding the two concussions that forced NASCAR's most popular driver to miss a pair of races in the Chase.

In Texas, Earnhardt once again looked like the driver who flirted with the top of the points standings for most of the Sprint Cup regular season. Adjustments improved his race car, speedy pit stops helped him pick up positions, and Earnhardt hung on for a seventh-place run that might have been better had he not been pinned on the outside during a series of late restarts.

"I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason, and I feel like this was a great step in that direction."


"I feel real good physically," he said. "I felt real sharp in the car all night. I want to run real hard and win a couple of races if we can at the end of this deal, but I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason, and I feel like this was a great step in that direction."

It was certainly an improvement from Martinsville, Earnhardt's first outing after sitting out two races to shake off effects of a pair on concussions suffered six weeks apart. Although fast in practice on the Virginia short track, Earnhardt finished 21st after being involved in an accident that spawned the final caution of the race.

Texas, by contrast, was a vast improvement. "I think it meant a lot," crew chief Steve Letarte said. "Last week, we kind of got our wires crossed. I got real gutsy with the pit strategy. We probably could have been a little more conservative and run in the top five or six. But to come here and have a car that could legitimately restart in the top five there at the end and have a shot at it, that was great."

Earnhardt started 19th and struggled to gain ground during the first half of the race in a car that didn't react as the No. 88 team had hoped it would. Adjustments helped the vehicle, but the real boost came on pit road, where Earnhardt gained seven positions during the final two stops, moving him to fifth as the event reached its final stages.

For Earnhardt, whose team has had issues on pit road in years past, it was the continuation of what's been a solid season-long effort over the wall. "It's a good feeling. You can depend on those guys every time you come down pit road," he said. "They've done an awesome job all year. We worked on them in the offseason, and they improved a little bit, and they've been solid all year without a doubt."

The No. 88 car made up those positions on pit road without using tire strategy, Letarte said. "Our strategy was to put four tires on it faster than the next guy, and we did a good job of it," he said. "We put four on all night. The pit crew, they've been strong all year long, so it was good to see them shine [Sunday night]."

The same could be said of the driver, who appeared to be in position to perhaps steal a victory had the race been determined by fuel mileage. Cautions, though, intervened and allowed championship contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski to determine the outcome between them -- though not before banging off each other a few times before Johnson edged Keselowski in the finish.

"I was thinking I might have a shot to win if they kept going like that," Earnhardt joked. As it was, he seemed content with seventh.

"Just real happy with the way we were able to rebound," he said. "[Would have] liked to have run in the top five, maybe a little closer to the front. But we definitely ran a little bit better, like we should."