2013 Food City 500: Earnhardt Jr. salvages top 10, off to best start of career

Jared Wickerham

After finishing sixth in Sunday's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to the best start of his career and moved to second overall in the Sprint Cup Series standings.

For much of Sunday's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s streak of top-10 finishes appeared in doubt.

It was that kind of day for Earnhardt Jr., who started 32nd and spent the majority of the race running around the 14th position and could never find the handle on his Chevrolet.

But as has been the case in every race so far this year, when the checkered flag waved, there was the No. 88 car inside the top 10 with Earnhardt Jr. finishing in the sixth position.

Afterward, the sport's most popular driver gave all the credit to his crew chief, Steve Letarte.

"He (Letarte) made a couple, two, three great pit calls there at the end," Earnhardt Jr. said, "and gave us the opportunity to get some guys on some old tires, and beat a few guys that we probably weren't going to beat.

"Great call by him."

It also didn't hurt that the Food City 500 was a race that saw plenty of attrition with many drivers being befuddled by melted beads, which caused a rash of right-front tire failures.

Earnhardt Jr. avoided the issues and a couple of late cautions allowed Letarte to roll the dice and call his driver to pit road while many stayed out on the track.

The fresh tires allowed Earnhardt Jr. to pass some cars he likely wouldn't have otherwise.

"We made some great changes at the end and Steve had some great strategy on the tires and we were able to salvage a good finish," Earnhardt Jr. said.

As a result of his team's hard work and savvy pit strategy, Earnhardt Jr. has for the first time in his career opened a season with four consecutive top-10 finishes. The fast start to the year has him second overall in the standings, just nine points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

Nevertheless, Earnhardt Jr. recognizes that his team still has more work to do.

"We have to do a little bit better and I am not real satisfied with the overall performance, but what Steve does on pit road is magic every week," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He is pretty sharp."

More from SB Nation:

Printable bracket for March Madness

Bracketology: Selection Sunday week is here

Gods fall down: Senegalese wrestling longform

NFL free agent grades: The most regrettable deals signed so far

SB Nation baseball cards: Bad players and dead animals

Minor League Ball's top 150 prospects for 2013

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.