Like he had done in the previous four Sprint Cup Series races this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a fairly quiet outing for much of Sunday's NASCAR race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.
But just as he has done throughout the year, Earnhardt Jr. was on his game when it counted most and with the laps winding down was once again in the top 10. When Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tangled on the final lap, Earnhardt Jr. was able to sneak through the carnage and leave Southern California with a second-place finish.
"We just stick together," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We (are) pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody. Just riding the wave. Just real happy with how things are going for our team."
The result was Earnhardt Jr.'s fifth consecutive top-10 and he continues to have the best start to a season in his career.
More importantly, because of Brad Keselowski's disappointing day -- he finished 22nd due to overheating issues -- Earnhardt Jr. vaulted into the points lead. Heading into NASCAR's first off week of the season, he now holds an 18-point over Keselowski, who dropped to second overall.
Toward the latter portions of the race it appeared Earnhardt Jr.'s streak of top 10 finishes was going to come to an end following a slow pit stop, which dropped him to 18th in the running order. But a timely caution allowed him to lineup in the outside groove -- the preferred lane throughout the afternoon -- and from there the No. 88 car was on the move picking off drivers with relative ease.
"We were lucky there at the end and came in and got some fresh tires and that sort of fixed our mistakes and helped us to get a good finish," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We had a good car and had some wheel issues, but was real happy about how we finished and made it up."