Dale Earnhardt Jr. came within arm's reach of a Southern 500 victory Saturday night at Darlington.
DARLINGTON, S.C. – The Track too Tough to Tame has never been one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s favorite stops on the Sprint Cup tour.
That’s understandable considering that in 19 previous starts, Earnhardt had posted just three top five finishes and a career-high result of fourth – until Saturday night.
Earnhardt posted a career-best second-place finish in the Southern 500.
“You guys did a great job on the car, great adjustments awesome pitstops,” Earnhardt said to the crew after the race. “You guys carried me at one of my worst tracks.”
Although Earnhardt started the race 15th, he quickly cut through traffic and into the top 10 in the first 20 laps and never dropped out of contention.
After lining up third on Lap 208, Earnhardt radioed to the crew he had a loose wheel, but later during that run realized it was a tire issue instead and quickly recovered. On the final pit stop, on Lap 363, crew chief Steve Letarte elected to take two tires for the final run.
With a push from eventual race winner Kevin Harvick, the No. 88 Chevy took the lead for the first time on Lap 367 during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish – but it was short-lived. On Lap 369, when Kurt Busch was punted by Clint Bowyer on the backstretch, the field was forced to line up once again for a second attempt to complete the race. Earnhardt tried to hold off Harvick for the win, however, with the No. 4 on four fresher tires, the No. 88 driver’s efforts were futile.
“Just didn’t have enough tires,” Earnhardt said. “Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top down there in (turns) three and four and made him go around the bottom. But I think he was going to get us anyway and we were going to try.
“A great run, good job by my team. This isn’t one of my best tracks. My team gave me a great car. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
Earnhardt’s fifth top-five finish of the season elevated the driver to fourth in the Sprint Cup point standings.