DOVER, Del. After saying he was trying to look at the bright side, Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered up this assessment of his race on Sunday:
“We left everybody in the mirror.”
Well, all but one – and it was a familiar one, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Earnhardt had one of his most complete race weekends of the season – unloaded fast off the truck, started from the pole and led 76 of the first 117 laps.
It was Lap 118 which knocked him off track. Earnhardt missed the entry to pit road while attempting to make a green-flag pit stop and lost the lead and a lot of track position.
Twice later in the race he got back to running as high as second, but even four new tires wasn’t enough to allow Earnhardt to run down Johnson in the final 26 laps.
Johnson went on to win a record eighth Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway, while Earnhardt was left as the runner-up.
“If I had not given up that track position, had a smart enough race to keep the lead when it counted right at the end, we might have won the race,” Earnhardt said. “It would have been hard to get by us, just like it was to get by Jimmie.”
While Earnhardt is, for the most part, already out of the 2013 championship picture three races into the 10-race Chase that will decide the champion, he and his No. 88 team desperately want to win before the season’s end.
Days like Sunday leave Earnhardt feeling incredibly close to that goal.
“We came really close. I don’t feel like (Sunday) was a highlight for us. I think this is how it’s supposed to be every week,” he said. “I know that competition’s difficult and tough.
“Jimmie being one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen and running at one of his better race tracks, it was going to be a challenge. But I felt like we had enough car and tires for sure to beat him.”
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