For part of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway it looked as though Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 47 race losing streak might come to an end. The 2001 winner at Dover led the field to the green from the pole and led most of the first 100 laps.
The trouble began during a round of green flag pit stops on lap 115. Earnhardt dove towards the pit entrance from the lead but didn’t slow down enough and was forced to stay on the track. He hit pit road a few laps later but when the cycle of stops was over, Earnhardt was in eighth.
“I take responsibility for getting a little too eager coming onto pit road for that green flag stop,” Earnhardt said. “We’re lucky we didn’t have more trouble through that whole deal. I didn’t know what the heck the rules are for that, so I was figuring we got off pretty light.”
Earnhardt was able to make his way forward again and by 300 was contending for the lead. He regained the point as leader Johnson came in for a green flag stop, but pit road problems again hit Earnhardt as he was trapped by a slower coming on pit lane. When the green flag stops again cycled through, Earnhardt found himself in fourth.
He had one last shot at the win. A caution for debris with 30 laps to go sent the lead pack to pit road. Johnson along with Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth took two tires, while Earnhardt became the first with four. Earnhardt restarted fourth but quickly made his way to second. As the laps wound down, Earnhardt tried to reel in Johnson.
“I felt like as we got the traffic, Jimmie was starting to struggle a little bit in the last couple of laps,” Earnhardt said. “My car actually got better the longer I ran and drove better, did what I needed it to do in the corner as we ran. It wasn't quite clicking just yet. Our car was starting to come around.”
He was able to get to Johnson but wasn’t able to get close enough to pass.
“I think the difference in the tires between our two cars was about to show,” he said. “But the race is 400 laps. That's the way it is. They did a good job. We were going to have a helluva party if we could get to him.”
Even with his second place finish Earnhardt seemed content but not satisifed.
“I feel like in the last couple of weeks, we've been able to really show what our team's capable of,” Earnhardt said. “We've been really quick on the sheet every day, fast in practice. The changes we're making, everything seems to be working right, going in the direction you want. I feel like when we get it right, we can compete and we can win.”
“We came really close today,” he added. “I don't feel like today was a highlight for us. I think this is how it's supposed to be every week.”