Time will tell if a spark of life has been put into the Chase hopes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he finished sixth on Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt jumped two spots to 11th in the championship, but still faces a mountain to climb if he wants to truly be back in post-season contention. Despite the move up the table, he lost ground to leader Matt Kenseth; he entered New Hampshire down 53 points after an engine failure last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, but left with a 62 point gap to overcome starting at Dover next weekend.
But today certainly fared better for him than the Windy City did, even though things didn’t start well. A loose lug nut forced Earnhardt to make a second stop under the first caution of the day, putting him on an alternate strategy.
That strategy enabled Earnhardt to get to the lead at Lap 114 before he pitted again shortly before the halfway point. During a caution at Lap 164, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team opted to go with two tires on his stop in a bid to gain track position.
The move worked, and on the final restart of the day, Earnhardt was able to move up to second before he began to lose rear grip and give up several positions in the remaining laps.
“I ran out of rear tires trying to hold him [fifth-place finisher Jamie McMurray] off,” Earnhardt said. “[I] couldn’t get the power down just off the corner and he was a pretty fast car to begin with. I knew it was going to be difficult to hold him off, but we had a good car yesterday. Almost as good as it was today.
“Just real happy to be able to rebound from earlier on pit road and get a good finish. The car was fast as heck yesterday – one of the top three cars I thought. Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it. Just want to win one, I’m trying hard.”
Looking ahead, Earnhardt has one career win at Dover but has been up-and-down at the Monster Mile in recent times (five finishes of 20th or worse in his last ten starts there). However, he did finish 10th there this past June.