After Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. clearly was dejected with his Hendrick Motorsports team’s performance.
The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet didn’t have a terrible day by any means, finishing 10th place in a race dominated by winner Brad Keselowski. But with two victories and nine top fives under Earnhardt’s belt already this year, a top-10 finish just wasn’t good enough for the perennial fan favorite.
"That was frustrating," Earnhardt said. "That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th-place finish. But we have been off all weekend. It’s been a real frustrating weekend, to be honest. The guys worked real hard. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the engineers did their best to try to get the car more competitive. Just to be lacking that much speed against a lot of those guys. I had to drive so perfect every lap. That was really frustrating."
Earnhardt and the entire Hendrick organization tested at the 1.06-mile speedway to prepare for both Sunday’s battle and the critical September event, the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Despite the test session, the Hendrick cars were never really a factor this time out.
Jimmie Johnson started second, but blew a tire early and finished 42nd. Jeff Gordon gambled on fuel late, but ran out when the race went to a green-white-checkered finish and ended the day 26th. Earnhardt Jr. led the charge in 10th, while Kasey Kahne finished one spot behind in 11th.
With Keselowski the class of the field all day, the real race at Loudon was essentially for the also-ran spots in the field.
"It was real disappointing not to have the speed a lot of those other guys had," Earnhardt said. "The No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the Gibbs guys they were all real fast. Hats off to them because they surely got their cars figured out. It’s just real frustrating all day long to be playing second fiddle. We worked really hard all day to finish 10th. Pretty disappointing we will go home and work on it and try to do better."
Not to be lost in the mix, however, is the fact that Earnhardt has clinched his spot in the 16-driver Chase field, something he called an "afterthought" on Sunday.
"We worked hard to get to where we are to be able to run as well as we have and win some races," he said. "It feels great. It’s an accomplishment. I’m proud of our team for that. Hopefully we can improve, though, before we come back here. This is an important race track so we need to run better than this and I know we will work hard to figure that out."