CONCORD, N.C. — At one point during Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. radioed to crew chief Steve Letarte that his No. 88 car was a "damn dump truck."
Earnhardt went on to finish fourth in the 22-car field.
Not half bad for a driver with a machine that clearly didn’t handle to his liking.
"We fought tight all night — the same thing we kind of fought last week (at Kansas Speedway)," said Earnhardt Jr., who started Saturday’s 5-segment, 90-lap exhibition race from the sixth position. "They made the car a little bit better there at the end but we were still driving through the right-front tire all the way around the corner."
You win here or it doesn’t matter.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt was seeking his second victory in the popular non-points race, which paid $1 million to Saturday night’s winner, Jamie McMurray.
"You win here or it doesn’t matter," said Earnhardt, who claimed his lone all-star victory as a Sprint Cup rookie in 2000 driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"Second, third, fourth, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. You just run as hard as you can and try to give yourself a chance, and we did that tonight. We thought we had a decent opportunity to get a good shot at it."
Earnhardt finished eighth in Saturday night’s first two 20-lap segments and seventh in the third and fourth 20-lap segments before lining up sixth for the final 10-lap segment following a mandatory four-tire pit stop.
Earnhardt picked off two positions in the final 10 laps and said his car improved on the final run — but the Hendrick Motorsports driver never whiffed the lead.
"We’ve been working on trying to improve front grip," said Earnhardt Jr., who hasn’t gone to Victory Lane in 10 points races since capturing the season-opening Daytona 500. "At Kansas last week we struggled real bad having a tight car, really giving up a lot of speed getting into the corner. We’ll look at everything we’re doing with the car."
The good news is that Earnhardt Jr. will have a different car for next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 back at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"I think it’s a brand new car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That’s always a plus. This car’s really old. It’s the car we won Michigan with in 2012, so she’s got some age on her."
As for calling Saturday night’s car a dump truck, Earnhardt remembered an earlier time in his career when he might have used a more disparaging description.
"I tried to clean it up," he said. "Years ago I would have called it a POS, but the guys don’t appreciate you calling their race cars names like that, but I just want Steve to understand that we’ve got an extreme issue on the front grip that we need to really work on. We have a way of communicating and we were clear on what things we need to work on going into the 600.
"It was a good learning tool tonight to be able to race and get some laps, and we definitely uncovered some things that we can improve on, and I’m sure we will."