Download Jr. Takes Texas: Dale Jr
Published Apr. 10
Greg Biffle (16), Kasey Kahne (5), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) and Kyle Larson (42) drive through sparks during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, April 9, 2016.(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
By Randy Jennings , Special contributor Contact Randy Jennings on Twitter:
FORT WORTH -- Sixteen years have passed since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first NASCAR Cup race. It came at Texas Motor Speedway.
The popular driver, without a win here ever since, came close on Saturday night, finishing runner-up in the Duck Commander 500.
Now 41, Earnhardt is closer to a racing elder statesman than his nickname of “Junior” would suggest. But the joy of racing, maneuvering his race car past another, remains evident in his post-race comments.
“Racing the 22 [Joey Logano] at the end was a lot of fun,” Earnhardt said of the duel that allowed him to make his push from third to second. “It is fun to set somebody up and get by them and that’s due to the direction we went this year with the low downforce. Pretty cool.”
Restarting on the inside at the end worked well for Earnhardt.
“The outside was kind of difficult, and we restarted fifth and were able to get up to third and raced the 22 car at the end," he said. "I enjoyed driving the car tonight. The car was very loose and very challenging, but a lot of fun for me.”
Earnhardt, driving the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet, finished 3.9 seconds behind winner Kyle Busch.
While he’s been absent from the winner’s circle here for long stretch, Earnhardt has been consistent with now 17 top-10 finishes at TMS. So far this season, he has four top-10s. He is sixth in points after seven starts with 211 and trails Busch, the leader, by 48.
“I had a great car,” he said. “It was tight early, but we made adjustments. I had a second- or third-place car tonight. You can’t ask for better than that. That’s a lot to ask with so much competition out there.”
Luck played a part in his run, too: “We got caught on pit road when the 30 wrecked and got the Lucky Dog. Very fortunate there.”
Earnhardt marveled at the run Busch is on right now, winning his second consecutive Cup race to go with his other series successes.
“He wins a lot of races. The guy’s good and he got a great team behind him. He put himself in position and Martin [Truex Jr.] couldn’t hold him off. Martin had the best car, but the best car doesn’t always win. He’ll have another chance.”
Earnhardt compared the racing surface at TMS to the track at Atlanta, only without as many bumps. He recorded a second-place finish there on Feb. 28.
“If we could get every track like this it would be perfect," he said. "Tonight is when I enjoy it.”