Earnhardt Jr. sets pace in final practice
September 21, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com
LOUDON, N.H. -- A day after being frustrated with his speed in the weekend's opening practice and qualifying, whatever adjustments Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team made seem to be working as the Hendrick Motorsports driver earned a pair of top-two finishes in Saturday NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practices at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Clint Bowyer took the opener with a speed of 132.688 mph, but Earnhardt improved upon that in the final practice at 133.059 mph lap. With a starting position of 16th in Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), it looks like he'll have his No. 88 Chevrolet in the shape necessary to move up the field and recover from last week's DNF in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway.
Points leader Matt Kenseth improved his speed from 131.966 in the morning session to 132.938 to place second on the final leaderboard. Kasey Kahne, who has shown serious speed all weekend and will start alongside pole-sitter Ryan Newman on the front row Sunday, was third in the final session.
Despite missing out on the Chase, defending race winner Denny Hamlin is still hoping to recover a lost season by earning a win for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. He was fourth in the late session. Bowyer backed up his early Saturday success by rounding out the top five with a speed of 132.591. It's an improvement upon his qualifying position of 16th.
The biggest surprise of the two sessions was pole winner Newman placing 24th with a speed of 130.702 in the opener then 25th in the second. His qualifying speed of 136.497 in Saturday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying was a track record.
A caution was thrown for debris on the track with five minutes remaining in the first session. Several drivers re-emerged from pit road to make a few final laps after NASCAR officials extended the practice by five minutes.