Dale Earnhardt Jr. said his eighth-place finish Sunday at Darlington Raceway was the result of a monumental effort from his crew over the course of a blazing-hot weekend. He also said there's plenty of work still to do when it comes to keeping pace in embracing the track's throwback theme.
Earnhardt touched on all those points and the reception for a popular rules package during Tuesday's edition of the "Dale Jr. Download" podcast on Dirty Mo Radio. It was his final monologue before the regular-season finale this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, where the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason will be set.
Earnhardt, who has already clinched a playoff berth in the field of 16, enjoyed not only the fruits of a grueling weekend at the historic track, but all of the vintage touches from an industry-wide retro event. His Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 crew joined in the fun with a paint scheme paying tribute to Cale Yarborough in his Valvoline years, but Junior said more can be done to prepare for the next Bojangles' Southern 500.
"I hope that the throwback idea at Darlington is going to stick," Earnhardt said. "I'm pretty sure it will after this weekend. There was a lot of teams that went the extra mile -- Larson and his guys, the 3 group, the Petty group did an awesome job, the Wood Brothers, they looked great. Think we're going to see this every year. At least I hope that the teams come back harder next year.
"I know we've got to step our game up to compete with some of these guys on the throwback schemes, so it's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully this is something that is a bit more of a tradition over the years for Darlington."
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While the track returned to tradition, the 43 teams returned to using the low-downforce rules package that was first seen at Kentucky Speedway in July. Teams dealt with a softer-compound tire on a coarse surface, which -- in conjunction with a reduction in aero stabilizers -- produced plenty of passing and hard-to-control cars.
Earnhardt was among the drivers offering a positive review.
"The low-downforce package seems to be showing a lot of great things, showing some good racing," Earnhardt said. "I think the fans are really enjoying it. Any time the drivers get out and they're that happy and excited about what they just did and how much fun they just had and how challenged they were, I think the fans really like that. I think fans want to see the drivers challenged. I think the fans want to see it be difficult, and it really is with this low downforce. You're really driving that car for all it's worth.
"And it's fun. It's funner. It's harder, but it's funner. Hopefully, it'll be like that at a lot of other tracks, and I'm sure we're going see this package more next year."