Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth in the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night but never really considered himself a contender. He believes that Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were the class of the field and believes he was just a little bit off from contending for the win.
While some drivers complained about the lack of grip in the middle of a run, Earnhardt had no such concerns and says he just didn’t make the right moves in the closing laps.
“I could get runs and charge up into the top five,” Earnhardt said. “But it didn’t like the clean air up there. It got real draggy, just real slow up front. The no. 20 had a really great car and the no. 14 was fast but they are real sharp at plate racing.
"I just didn’t make enough of the right moves or have enough car to get it going there at the end.”
Earnhardt nearly lost a lap to the leaders at the end of the second segment and there was concern that he suffered an engine failure. His team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte, diagnosed the car during the intermission and found no problems. Earnhardt now believes that he just lost the draft.
“Well I thought I had an issue with the engine but it was just that the draft was easy to lose,” Earnhardt said. “With this spoiler on the back, it’s really easy to lose the draft because air gets to your nose pretty quick, and the distance of the draft isn’t as far back as it used to be off the car in front of you. So you can lose it pretty quickly. You have to be real careful.”
The Sprint Cup Series debuted a new car in the Sprint Unlimited and Earnhardt believes it will change the way drivers draft at plate races this season. Earnhardt says the new car, combined with very little draft practice, was the cause of the multicar accident on lap 14 and that drivers have to adjust to the new style of drafting.
“A lot of the guys that weren't in this race haven't been in real race conditions with this car yet,” Earnhardt added. “So, half the field still has a lot to learn; a crash course you know…
"The bumpers aren't perfect. They are imperfect when they line up, and that is going to cause some action and some drama out there. That is the way it used to be, and I think everybody is okay with that. The drafting and the way you work the draft, I think everybody is still kind of learning that. I learned a lot tonight, but I still think there is a ton to learn."