Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed a strong run Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Coming off a second place finish at Talladega the week prior, NASCAR’s most popular driver hoped the momentum would help as the series left NASCAR’s biggest track and headed to the smallest.
It turned out to be a mixed day.
After starting 12th, Earnhardt seemed stall unable to move forward. He was finally able to work his way forward and by lap 85 was inside the top 10. Shortly after that he was up into the top five and was second after a caution flag on lap 180.
On lap 219 however, Earnhardt pitted while most of the leaders stayed out. That left him deep in the field; he was able to battle back and was back inside the top 10. His Chevy had loose sheetmetal from the contact made as he worked his way forward.
As the laps wound down, Earnhardt seemed stuck unable to move forward. When the checkered flag fell he was scored eighth.
“We worked really, really hard all day and just…….we had a decent car and didn’t do everything exactly like we needed to. It was a pretty good car, maybe a fifth place car,” Earnhardt said. “This tire was a struggle for us last year, and the last time we were here and we felt like we made a lot of good gains on it in practice and had some good speed. I don’t know what we have to do to get that extra bit. I think the race could play out a little bit differently and give us a little better track position. We tore the right front off and I think that hurt the aerodynamics quite a bit.”
Earnhardt said it was hard to pass the entire race.
“If you can’t drive under them, you can’t drive under them,” he said. “You saw everybody trying to get to the bottom on the restarts because the bottom is so much better than the middle. Trust me, if guys could drive up under people they would. Everybody has got the same race cars, everybody is running the same speed, and all these teams are so competitive. If you get 35 cars out there running out there within a tenth (of a second) of each other, then you aren’t going to have side-by-side no matter where you are at.”
While the finish was better than his last two at Martinsville (24th in the spring and 21st last fall), the eighth place still drops him to seventh in the standings. It also left Earnhardt feeling little joy for his teammate Jeff Gordon who won Sunday’s race.
“I would rather win the race, and I have missed a lot of opportunities to win here,” Earnhardt said. “We finish alright, we run alright. I am really happy for my teammates when they do well, but right now we are just worried about ourselves. We have two or three races to go and we want to get as close as we can.”