Sunday Notebook: Earnhardt Jr. salvages sixth, but victory continues to elude him
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
LOUDON, N.H. — Based on Saturday's practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought he had a potential winner in Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
A miscue in the pits, however, put the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet off pit sequence from the majority of the field.
Earnhardt's crew had trouble with a lug nut on the right rear wheel during Earnhardt's first pit stop, under caution on Lap 32. Subsequently, Earnhardt brought the No. 88 to pit road off-sequence under yellow on Lap 55.
That move allowed Earnhardt to inherit the lead on Lap 114 during a cycle of green-flag stops, but he surrendered it after a pit stop on lap 130 and led only one lap thereafter—under caution on Lap 202.
Nevertheless, Earnhardt earned a hard-fought sixth-place finish after losing fifth place to Jamie McMurray during an intense battle late in the race.
"I ran out of rear tires trying to hold him off," Earnhardt said. "Couldn't get the power down just off the corner, and he was a pretty fast car to begin with. ...
"Just happy to rebound from earlier on pit road and get a good finish. The car was fast as heck (Saturday in practice), one of the top three cars, I thought. Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it. Just want to win one—I'm trying hard."
Earnhardt hasn't been to Victory lane in his past 47 starts, dating to June 2012 at Michigan.
Not that any competitor would wish ill fortune on the Chase leader, but Carl Edwards doesn't think it's untoward to remind former teammate Matt Kenseth that there may be trouble on the horizon.
After all, the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have had several engine issues this year, and Edwards was simply making sure Kenseth remembers that. With wins in the first two Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, Kenseth looks formidable indeed, but a blown engine could change that.
"I think if Matt and those guys can stay away from some of the equipment issues they've had, they're going to be really, really tough to beat," said Edwards, who finished ninth Sundayand is fourth in the standings, 36 points behind Kenseth. "He could run away with this thing, and he's making it tough on the rest of us.
"But for me it's kind of the tortoise and the hare. He's out there going, but we know--we've seen it this year--those guys have had a couple of problems. I'm not wishing that upon them or anything..."
No, nothing like that. Right, Carl?
In a race that featured strong rallies from a number of drivers—Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle among them—Jamie McMurray's comeback was perhaps most impressive.
On Lap 37 of 300, McMurray spun in Turn 4 off the bumper of soon-to-be-ex-teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. McMurray brought the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to pit road for a succession of stops under caution as his team worked feverishly to repair the damage.
Ultimately, McMurray finished fifth—his third top five of the season—after taking the fifth position from Earnhardt late in the race.
"Yeah, our car was really good, even after the crash," McMurray said. "I told you before the race that, if we had good track position at the end, I thought we could finish good.
"It was a really good day for our Linksys car—just a fun day racing."