Dale Jr. salvages fourth-place finish on otherwise rough day
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. was unable to back up his 2014 season sweep of Pocono Raceway by winning either of this year's races at the "Tricky Triangle," the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet was able to earn his 11th top-five finish of the season by coming home fourth in Sunday's Windows 10 400.
All things considered, he'll take it.
Starting from the 15th spot, Earnhardt was in third by Lap 50, and brought his car to pit road under green-flag conditions on Lap 53. However, he could not get his car slowed up in time and NASCAR penalized him for speeding.
Helped by a caution for Brad Keselowski's uncontrolled tire on pit road, Earnhardt was still mired deep in the field.
Restarting 25th on Lap 72 of 160, Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was hit in the left rear by Cole Whitt entering Turn 1. The contact sent Earnhardt's car spinning in a cloud of smoke as the rest of the field scrambled to avoid him. NASCAR's most popular driver brought the slightly damaged car to the attention of his Greg Ives-led crew.
Slowly and steadily, Earnhardt began to make forward progress, but he was only 17th with 10 laps to go.
One of the last cars to pit under green on Lap 127, Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was good on fuel to the finish as others went into conservation mode just hoping to make it. As the leaders began running out of gas in the closing laps, Earnhardt stayed the course and brought the car home fourth, 23.716 seconds behind race winner Matt Kenseth.
Pleased with the end result, Earnhardt backed up his comments from earlier in the weekend that his team still has some work to do before the Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off in six weeks at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We've just got to work harder," he said. "Our car wasn't very good all weekend in the corner. We had a lot of balance issues we never really cured. That held us up. We weren't as good as we were here earlier this year. But still, it was a top-10, top-five car, but just barely a top-five car. I thought we had a good enough car to win here when we came here earlier in the summer, but we lost a little balance."