NASCAR

Junior changes engine, drops to back

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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JOLIET, Ill.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from the back of the field in Sunday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway — the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup — because of a post-qualifying engine change.

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Earnhardt, seventh in the point standings, qualified fourth on Saturday, but his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team then elected to change engines, automatically putting Junior in the back.

“I don’t think we are super concerned,” crew chief Steve Letarte said. “We had a great car in practice and qualified really well, so we showed we have good speed.

“Fortunately, this is a race track that there are multiple pit strategies, and it’s not a really simple, straightforward pit strategy to call. I think there will be a lot of opportunities to use our good pit stops and place on pit road to get back towards the front.”

Earnhardt echoed Letarte’s “good speed” assessment. Following qualifying, he described his car as “awesome, real good grip.” He was “happy” with his car on Friday and felt the car is good enough to finish in the top five on Sunday. However, that was before the engine change.

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“The car is good, it’s got good speed,” Earnhardt said. “We liked the changes we were making, like the way the car was responding. We got a good starting spot. Should be able to maintain our track position all day and have a good time.”

Earnhardt has enjoyed success on the 1.5-mile track in the past. He won at Chicagoland in 2005 and finished third last year.

For Sunday, Letarte selected the 38th pit stall — the seventh stall off of Turn 4 — with an opening in front.

Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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