Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes up just short of winning in Las Vegas

With already having locked in his Chase birth, there was a simple attitude going into Sunday’s race at Las Vegas for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve LeTarte – do what it takes to win, even if it takes trying out a game. The pair tried their hand at a gamble to win the race, though came up a couple ounces sort of gasoline as the No. 88 Mountain Dew/Kickstart Chevrolet stuttered coming out of turn four.

Still, Earnhardt Jr. brought home a solid finish as he grabbed second behind Brad Keselowski. For that reason, Earnhardt Jr. says their attempt a gamble paid off.

“We weren’t going to — as much as you want to win, and believe me, we were out there trying to win, you do take pride in a good performance, a good finish, and we weren’t going to run in the top 5 if we hadn’t have used that particular strategy, if we’d have run the same strategy as our competitors we would have probably run just inside the top 10 where we were all day,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “At least it felt like I was around eighth all day.  I just couldn’t get any ground, and we fought the car all day. Just the air is so dirty behind everybody, the further back you get you’ve got less and less grip.  Once we got the lead, it was like driving a Cadillac.”

Earnhardt said that once he got a good lead after the late race restart with 30 to go, he started to lift early to try and save fuel.

“I felt like if we were good enough to hold him off, then we’d win the race.  If we weren’t, we would have saved enough fuel to have finished the race, at least get to the end,” Earnhardt said. “I can run out of gas on the back stretch and be okay, but if I run out off of 4 coming to the white it would’ve been big trouble, so I had to save a little bit.  So I let him catch us and once he got there, I ran as hard as I could and could pull back away from him.”

Earnhardt added that he’s proud of the effort by the whole team and the strategy that they tried.

“It’s disappointing, but at the same time the good Lord has blessed me with a good team and good fortune and great opportunity, so I don’t want to get too down and think about the positives and be productive so we can go to Bristol and try to win there,” Earnhardt continued.

The startegy that was played by Earnhardt and team was outside of what others had done as most teams came down pit road under the late caution to top off with gas. However, the No. 88 team chose to take the gamble.

Earnhardt stressed that it was because they were locked in the Chase with the Daytona 500 that they could the gamble and hope it paid off. For that reason, he feels that the new format is a positive in a way to create added entertainment for the sport.

“It gives us freedom, and it’s nice to have that freedom to do the things that we did today, even though we knew our odds weren’t good,” Earnhardt added. “We really shouldn’t have made it, and we didn’t, but we got to try because of the new system.  So yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.”

With the second place finish at Las Vegas, Earnhardt is only the second driver in series history to start off the season with three top two finishes; Richard Petty was the last to do it in the mid 1970s. Certainly, it helps keep the confidence and the momentum going, though also shows the growth in Earnhardt and LeTarte over the past couple of years.

When we first got together we’d run our guts out to run in the top 15.  Then the next year we’d run our guts out to run in the top 10, and you wondered when you’d get up to fifth and start running in the top 5 regularly,” Earnhardt said. “We started doing that finally last year, and so our team just keeps stepping up this ladder.  It just makes total sense to me how that process has went, having lived it and having seen the progression.  So the sky’s the limit for us, and if we are smart and keep our composure and don’t get foolish and don’t get too proud of ourselves, just keep it in perspective, we’ve got a great opportunity this year to be this competitive every week.”

With coming so short at winning, it can definately be disappointing and bring down the attitude. However, rather than be disappointed with the performance, Earnhardt Jr. kept a postive outlook – something that was not common in years before. Earnhardt says that’s part of the growth of him as a driver as he learned previously that getting angry and frustrated doesn’t help.

He recalled back in 2008 when he ran out of gas with two laps to go at Pocono Raceway with his cousin Tony Euy Jr. crew chiefing. He said he came in, took his helmet off and bashed in the fender – basically, making an ass of himself.

“I learned a lot from that experience,” he commented. “It took a lot — my team was disappointed in my actions, and my cousin was disappointed in my actions and the way I was, so when we ran out — when we run out of gas now, you know, you’ve got to try to be positive, because those kind of things, when you crash, wreck, blow up, those kind of things, there’s an opportunity there for it to be worse, and you make it worse than it is, or for you to try to clean up the mess and carry on.  Throwing a tantrum and getting upset and mad about it don’t do any good for your team.  They don’t feed off of that.  If anything it brings your team down.”

Instead of being frustrated, there were positives in how the strategy worked for them and how they ran inside the top 10 throughout the day.

“It hurts to lose like that,” Earnhardt admitted, though. “We’d definitely love to be in victory lane right now, but our time will come.  We’ll keep going.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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