Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Texas Performance Puts Earnhardt Jr. Back in Contention
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season had been defined by disappointing performances up until Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Success shouldn’t come surprisingly as Earnhardt Jr. entered the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 with five consecutive top-10 finishes and ten top-10 results in his last 13 races in the Lone Star State.
The weekend didn’t kick off well as Earnhardt Jr. missed qualifying after not passing through technical inspection in time which put him 37th to start the race.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver quickly moved forward, gaining ten spots before the first caution on Lap 3. By Lap 59, he entered the top-10. Following a Lap 121 caution, Earnhardt Jr. restarted sixth, moved up to fourth, but ultimately finished Stage 2 in ninth.
When the Final Stage went green, the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet was third. While he never took the lead, he ran as high as second at Lap 211. He consistently ran in and around of the top-five for the remainder of the event, crossing the finish line in fifth and scoring his first top-10 result of 2017.
“Could have finished a little better, we will take top five,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Hendrick Motorsports’ performance indicated the organization is making progress after a slow start to 2017 for three of its four cars.
A ninth-place run at Phoenix marked Jimmie Johnson’s highest result of the season before scoring HMS’ first victory on Sunday. Earnhardt Jr. finished nine positions higher than his previous best result of 14th at Phoenix.
Chase Elliott hasn’t been phased by his teammates’ struggles to start the year as he now has five top-10 finishes in seven races. While two top-10 performances at Daytona and Atlanta showed promise from Kasey Kahne, he has struggled ever since and had another disappointing run at Texas, finishing 38th.
If HMS can carry this momentum into the upcoming races and find similar success, it would be a role reversal from last season when they started strong but faded throughout the summer.
Sunday’s results not only indicate a potential turnaround for HMS but show they adapted well to the new surface which could be beneficial come November when the stakes are much higher in the playoffs.
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