Runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. collects seventh top-10 in Chase

Posted Sunday, Nov. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has run as consistently as any driver in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup since a mishap in the season’s opening playoff race.

A blown engine in the first race of the Chase in Chicago that put Earnhardt in a hole to start makes a guy wonder about the what-ifs after seven top-10 finishes since.

Especially after a second-place finish in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt is fifth in the series standings, 62 points back. He’s not mathematically eliminated, though his season is all but done.

“We want to put a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you’re in there for a reason and you don’t want to be an also-ran,” Earnhardt said. “So we feel like we’re doing a lot of good work and getting really close to probably breaking through and getting a win.

“We’ve only got two more opportunities, but I’m real pleased with the speed of the car.”

The Earnhardt team gambled in the late stages of Sunday’s race of the race by short pitting and trying to get track position.

The No. 88 was fast, but winner Jimmie Johnson “was in another class. Nobody had anything for him.”

Earnhardt’s finish at TMS was his third runner-up since Chicago.

“The Chicago deal is regrettable,” Earnhardt said. “We’d love to go back and do that again, but as soon as that happened, we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race.... That’s what we’re working for now.”

Earnhardt, winless in 2013, ran close in Chase races at Dover International and at Talladega. He has four other runner-up finishes this year.

“We’re not running second by making mistakes,” Earnhardt said. “We’re not giving away wins. I feel like just trying to maintain the momentum with two races to go is going to be tough.

“But that’s what we’re focusing on.”

TMS has been good to Earnhardt. The track was the site of his first Sprint Cup victory, in 2000, and he has 12 top 10s and four top fives in 22 starts in Fort Worth.

“We started out Saturday morning in practice really struggling,” Earnhardt said. “We worked on the car and improved it for the second practice and made a lot of changes overnight in that direction. When the race started, we had a top-10 car.”

His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet started seventh, next to teammate Jeff Gordon.

Earnhardt reported difficulty with the car on Lap 25, but he surged ahead and spent a portion of the race dueling Matt Kenseth, the chief rival to teammate Jimmie Johnson’s pursuit of a sixth season title.

“The track conditions that we tested in were similar to how the race ended, so I think that was in our favor,” Earnhardt said. “But I’m real pleased with being able to run well.”

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