Dale Earnhardt Jr. salvaged an 11th-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, leaving Tennessee with a decent points day despite being one lap down early in the race.
Earnhardt Jr. said he was pleased his team "made a good day out of nothing, really." He moved up to ninth in the Sprint Cup Series point standings.
Most notably, Earnhardt Jr. was happy that crew chief Steve Letarte continues to make his car better throughout the races early in their new partnership – even when it looks as if the No. 88 team is in for a bad day.
"Steve's done amazing," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Every week we've gotten better during the race. I can't ask for any more than that, and I hope he keeps it up and I'm proud to have an opportunity to work with this group."
Earnhardt Jr. seemed headed for a certain top-10 finish – and perhaps a top-five – but a pit-road speeding penalty with just 70 laps to go dropped him from sixth to 17th.
He gained six spots on the final run, but it left him wondering what might have been.
"We should have run in the top 10," he said. "I sped coming on pit road – I guess. Hell, I was just in a line of damn cars. But I guess I should pay better attention. So we had to kind of give up a few spots there."
Earnhardt Jr. was also hurt by a speeding penalty last year at Bristol, but he seemed to handle this one much better. Asked by a reporter why he blew up under the same circumstances a year ago but not during Sunday's race, Earnhardt Jr. credited his overall attitude while working with Letarte.
"I ain't gonna get mad and holler," he said. "Last year was a hard time. Last year I was going through some rough stuff."
While Earnhardt Jr. was pleased that Letarte improved the car throughout the day, he was disappointed at the changes he and the team made prior to the racet.
The driver said he feels good about Bristol and is capable of a top-five run, but a Saturday-night decision to adjust the left-front suspension of the car ended up hurting his machine off the corner and made it drag the left front across the track in the turns.
Overall, though, it wasn't a bad day considering all that happened.
"We had a top-10 car, but we didn't at the start of the race, I guess," he said. "They made it better, and it got better."