Dale Earnhardt Jr. matched his best finish of the 2011 season after he took runner-up honors in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Kansas Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet raced hard to contend for the win, but ultimately had to go into fuel-conservation mode on the final laps. He finished second, ahead of his teammates Jeff Gordon in fourth, Jimmie Johnson in seventh and Mark Martin in 21st.
Earnhardt lined up 28th for Sunday’s race and was working his way through the field, when he spun his No. 88 Chevrolet in Turn 4. Earnhardt saved his car, but had to make a stop for new tires and fuel.
“I spun out there one time trying to find some speed,” Earnhardt said. “It was just real loose, which I like. It was hot and slick, just the way I like it. I tried to get too much at one time. We had a good car – fast all day. Just gotta qualify better so we don’t have to work so hard.”
Earnhardt’s teammates also rallied from some difficult starting spots. Gordon lined up 22nd for the 400-mile affair, and Johnson was 31st. They made their way through the field and were running inside the top 10 by Lap 67. Martin, meanwhile, experienced handling issues on his No. 5 Farmers Insurance/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet and spent the majority of his day inside the top 25.
When Earnhardt’s spin brought out the caution flag on Lap 154, the Hendrick lineup took the oportunity for fuel, tires and adjustments. Earnhardt’s issue turned out to be a blessing for the driver of the No. 88 Chevy, and he picked up a new pit sequence. As the race wound down, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte knew the No. 88 Chevrolet could go the distance if the 267-lap event continued under green-flag conditions.
Gordon and Johnson were on a different pit sequence, however, and were required to come in for fuel during the final 10 laps. Their pit crews worked swiftly and the duo returned to nab spots inside the top 10. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, improves to second in the driver standings, while Gordon now ranks 13th.
“I thought we did an excellent job with this (No.) Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet,” Gordon said. “I have to thank Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and all the guys. We had an awesome car all weekend; the car just unloaded fast. We made some adjustments early and it really just came to us and that’s when we drove it up into the top three and really stayed there.
“All in all a great effort, great top-five finish. We’re thrilled about that. We want to thank everybody for supporting Drive to End Hunger, especially in this Kansas area with everything that’s been going on in Joplin (Mo.). We can’t thank the fans enough not only for coming out to the race, but for supporting Drive to End Hunger.”
Martin, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, ranks 14th in the driver standings.