FORT WORTH, Texas — Like Jimmie Johnson, his race-winning teammate from Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t feeling the best physically after Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
But like Johnson, he didn’t seem to be bothered too much by it because he was ecstatic with his fifth-place finish – by far his best of this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
“I figured we would get one sooner or later, but it’s nice,” Earnhardt said. “I know our fans are really pulling for us. Could have finished a little better, but we will take top five.”
While Johnson had to be treated for dehydration after the race because the system that normally delivers fluids to him ceased working on Lap 3 of the 500-mile race, the problem Earnhardt encountered was with the air-conditioning unit that is supposed to pump cool air through his helmet.
“It was warm,” Earnhardt said. “I thought the car was pretty warm all weekend, but our air conditioner wasn’t doing a very good job today. We’ve just got to relocate the outlet or the inlet to give it a better opportunity to get some air.”
Earnhardt said the winds that were gusting up to 25 miles per hour did not help matters.
“As windy as it is here you’ve got to put that thing in a more opportune place,” he said. “It’s kind of like a vacuum. It’s pulling air out of the helmet on one half of the track. I just ran with the visor up the whole day. I was happy to see that caution late to get us some Gatorade and cool off a little bit. It was hot.”
Earnhardt said he got a good feel for just how windy it was on Friday and Saturday when he tried to get a little exercise in after his day in the car was done.
“The wind is blowing so hard it’s really working against you on one half of the track,” Earnhardt said. “I rode 40 miles on the bike. 20 Friday and 20 Saturday. But Jimmie rode about 100, so that is no excuse.”
The late caution Earnhardt spoke of came with 30 laps to go in the 334-lap race.
Earnhardt was the fifth car in line off pit road after stops and was sixth on the restart because one car, Joey Logano’s, stayed out. From there, Earnhardt was able to gain one spot to secure his first top-five finish since a second-place run at Pocono in June of 2016.
Earnhardt sat out the final 18 races of last season after suffering a concussion. His best finish since making his comeback in the season-opening Daytona 500 was 14th at Phoenix, and he was 25th in the points standings heading into Sunday’s race.
Now he’s moved up to 20th in the points heading into the upcoming off weekend, and much more confident about what lies ahead.
“I felt like we were pretty good and we ran with the cars that have been really fast,” Earnhardt said.