RECAPPING THE RACE:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy car was on track for a top-10 finish before an accident forced an unscheduled pit stop and an eventual 15-place finish.
The Kannapolis, N.C., native lined up 13th for Saturday’s 267-lap event, which opened under a warm, sunny sky. After the green flag dropped, Earnhardt reported a tight-handling condition on the No. 88 Chevy. Despite the handling issue, Earnhardt cracked the top 10 on Lap 15, and on Lap 25, he was posting times faster than the leaders. He was running sixth on Lap 38 when the first caution flag was waved.
Interim crew chief Lance McGrew called Earnhardt down pit road for four fresh tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment to the green-and-white No. 88 Chevy. The field went back to green-flag racing on Lap 43, and Earnhardt was scored 12th on the scoring pylon. He raced inside the top 15 during the following 60 laps and was back inside the top 10 on Lap 109.
Earnhardt once again reported a tight-handling condition during the middle stages of the race, but maintained his footing inside the top 10. McGrew continued to work with his driver to get the car dialed in with a handful of modifications.
The third caution flag waved on Lap 210, and Earnhardt, running 13th at the time, made his way down pit road. The crew bolted on four fresh tires, made air pressure and chassis adjustments and added fuel. Quick work by the crew sent Earnhardt back to green-flag racing on Lap 215 in the 12th position.
The caution flag was displayed just three laps later, and the leaders opted not to head to pit road. The field lined up for a double-file restart on Lap 223. The intensity picked up with the checkered flag less than 50 laps away. Earnhardt, running 11th at the time, got caught in the middle of a three-wide pack. His No. 88 Chevy became loose and made hard right-side contact with the outside car, bringing out the fifth caution of the night.
While most of the field opted to stay on track, McGrew called his driver to pit road for four fresh tires and to asses any damage to the No. 88 machine. With minimal injury to the Chevrolet, Earnhardt went back to green-flag racing in the 16th position on Lap 232.The 34-year-old driver picked up one position during the closing laps and crossed the finish line 15th. Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon crossed the finish line first and second, respectively.