The exhaustion Dale Earnhardt Jr. was suffering was visible Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Shortly after climbing from his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, Earnhardt Jr. sat on the pit wall and talked about his day in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301.
After starting 28th, Earnhardt tried to fight his way forward, but seemed to get nowhere on the one mile oval in Loudon, New Hampshire. The key came when crew chief Steve Letarte began calling for two tire pits stops. The move allowed Earnhardt to move into the top five.
He wasn’t able to stay there near the end however. Earnhardt tried to hold on but could only manage a 10th place finish when the checkered flag dropped.
“I think we worked real hard to finish where we finished,” Earnhardt said. The guys worked their guts out every practice. We changed a lot of stuff on the car.”
There was one major issue the entire weekend according to Earnhardt.
“It was real disappointing not to have the speed a lot of those other guys had,” he said. “ The No. 2 ( race winner Brad Keselowski) and the Gibbs guys they were all real fast. Hats off to them because they surely got their cars figured out.”
Earnhardt was not only physically spent, but also let down as well.
“It’s just real frustrating all day long to be playing second fiddle,” Earnhardt said. “We worked really hard all day to finish 10th. Pretty disappointing we will go home and work on it and try to do better.”
The one bright spot for Earnhardt: With Sunday’s finish, two wins this season and his spot in the championship standings, Earnhardt had clinched a spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That wasn’t on Earnhardt’s mind Sunday however.
“You could say it was an afterthought,” Earnhardt said. “But we worked hard to get to where we are to be able to run as well as we have and win some races. It feels great. It’s an accomplishment. I’m proud of our team for that. Hopefully we can improve though before we come back here. This is an important race track so we need to run better than this and I know we will work hard to figure that out.”
Prior to looking ahead though, Earnhardt continued to express his dissatisfaction with Sunday’s finish.
“That was frustrating,” he said. “That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th place finish. But we have been off all weekend. It’s been a real frustrating weekend to be honest. The guys worked real hard. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the engineers did their best to try to get the car more competitive. Just to be lacking that much speed against a lot of those guys. I had to drive so perfect every lap. That was really frustrating. I had a good race with the No. 42 Kyle (Larson) at the end there. He was real loose, I was way too tight, so that was a mixture for us just to get stuck together and not be able to work around each other. But I had fun racing him.”
NASCAR will return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. Unlike Sunday however, the race will be part of the Chase. Earnhardt’s best finish at New Hampshire is a third, four times, the last coming in 2005.
“We are going to have to come back here and run better than that to have a shot in the Chase,” Earnhardt said. “We will keep working. 10th place I’m really disappointed, but I remember when we used to like these.”