Notebook: Earnhardt Jr. surprised his rivals weren’t better weather men
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
FONTANA, Calif. -- To Dale Earnhardt Jr., the decision not to pit when rain hit Auto Club Speedway on Sunday was a no-brainer.
Earnhardt stayed out and finished third in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400, which NASCAR called after 129 laps when the rain intensified.
Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, however, came to pit road under caution for the initial shower, giving up positions in the top five and costing themselves better finishes. Earnhardt was shocked that anyone came to pit road.
"I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and all day today that once it began to rain, it wasn't going to stop," Earnhardt said. "I was surprised that some guys came down pit road and gave up track position."
Having made the right call, Earnhardt gained three positions in the Sprint Cup standings and now trails leader Greg Biffle by 17 points.
JOHNSON GETS A GIFT
Forget the 25 points Jimmie Johnson regained on appeal of the No. 48 team’s Daytona penalty early this season.
Johnson was equally fortunate Sunday -- despite pitting under the caution for rain -- when the stoppage of the race left him 10th in the running order, instead of in the garage repairing a broken oil line.
As the cars circled the track in the rain, Johnson’s car began smoking. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy didn't know whether the cause was a broken oil line fitting or an oil cooler problem, but he was happy his team didn't have to make the diagnosis during the course of the race.
"It was just a wild chain of events, because when I came to pit road and took four tires, I wanted it to dry up real quick," Johnson said before NASCAR called the race. "Now I’m sitting here praying for rain. So, as I’m sending the signals to the man upstairs, he’s really confused about what I’m asking for the last three or four minutes."
Johnson got his wish, and the unrelenting rain kept him 10th at the finish -- his fourth straight top-10 -- and allowed him to gain two positions to ninth in the Cup standings.
SOLID RUN FOR BIFFLE
Biffle, on the other hand, was hoping the race would restart -- and never changed his mind.
The driver of the No. 16 Ford felt post-rainstorm track conditions would have favored his car.
"I like this track, but the last few times we’ve been off just a tick," said Biffle, who settled for a sixth-place run when NASCAR called the race. "Today, I didn’t keep up with the track. I thought we were getting closer at the end, because we were closing in on the 29 (Kevin Harvick), and then he got his car going.
"If they would have gotten the track cleaned off and going again, I think we would have had a chance, because we’re good on a cold, green track. When it gets hot and slick, we’re not as good as they are."