Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t repeat his thrilling Daytona 500 victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, but he did the next best thing, finishing second to Kevin Harvick in The Profit on CNBC 500.
Last year, when Earnhardt went winless, he might have been discouraged by the result. But with last weekend’s 500 victory, an all-but-guaranteed spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead, Earnhardt is at the top of his game right now.
Harvick had the entire field covered all day, leading 224 of 312 laps, but Earnhardt drove a solid race himself, fending off stiff challenges from Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
"Well, got to congratulate Kevin," Earnhardt said. "Those guys were .2 seconds faster (per lap) than anybody all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal. To be able to run with them as we did all day was a big confidence builder for us. Even at the end of the race I thought our laps we put together coming up to the checkered were faster than him."
Under the circumstances, second didn’t seem that bad.
"I would have loved to have won the race, am a little disappointed to have come that close," said Earnhardt. "But our team is performing so well. Got a lot of great chemistry and good communication going back and forth. Everybody’s confidence is very high. Everybody’s mood and morale is really high. Hopefully we can maintain that and not have any bad luck or make any mistakes and continue to keep working towards winning more races."
This was the sixth time in the last 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup points races that Earnhardt has finished second, but he’s not worried about it.
"If we run second enough, we’re bound to at least trip into one or two (victories)," said Earnhardt. "We ran second quite a few races in the last 10 or so races we run. I feel really good. I feel like we’re coming around the corner, peaking at the right time this season to try to run for the championship."