Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to sit out two weeks of NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing due to a concussion he suffered in practice at Kansas Speedway and aggravated in a crash at Talladega. The week before the race at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Jr. was cleared by his doctor to get back behind the wheel and finish out the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. not only missed the racing but missed everything that goes with being at the track.
“The team, just working with the team, working with the guys, we’ve got a pretty good relationship and I really enjoy working with them and being at the track. Just going through practice, making a change, it working and everybody getting excited about that just that small improvement that we made. “ Dale Jr. said about missing the races. “It’s hard to put your finger on one detail, but when you are sitting there watching the race go on I miss hearing Steve (Letarte) and T.J. (Majors) voices and just being in the car and going through the process. Begin out there and competing watching all my peers compete and just wishing I was in the mix being out there doing it. Just being around the guys, every one of my guys we’ve gotten a great relationship built over the last couple of years. It’s fun to race with them, it’s fun to go to work with them.”
Since he missed two complete races it dropped him to 122 points behind the leader Brad Keselowski and 60 points or more than one race behind eleventh place Greg Biffle. Dale Jr. will most surely finish the season in 12th place. Dale Jr. and his team are only racing to build momentum for next year and help his teammate Jimmie Johnson by providing additional information regarding how the cars are performing.
Dale Jr. said, “I feel like I’ve been out of the car for a year. It doesn’t feel like a couple of weeks. But, I think we can go right to it. I felt good at the test. I like this race track, and I feel like we can run good here, and I want to do a good job over the next four weeks. I want to run hard, and I want us to go into every weekend trying to do what we’ve been doing all year long.”
Sitting out didn’t seem to affect Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the first practice he led the speed chart for a time and was able to finish the practice session second (97.488 MPH). Dale wasn’t able to carry that through or improve on it during qualifying and ended up starting the race 20th.
Dale Jr. said before the race. “The car’s fast. We had good speed in practice. Just missed it qualifying. I’m not a very good qualifier here but we got good speed to race and it’s a long race and we have plenty of time to get to the front.”
With ten top five finishes, 14 top ten finishes and an average finish of 12.6 this is a great track for Dale Jr. to come back on. Dale Jr. didn’t need to many laps as he was in the top ten by lap 60. He raced in and around the top ten all day until the tenth caution when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski stayed out while every other car pitted for fuel and tires. Dale Jr. had a pour restart and fell back into the field.
On lap 492, the No. 22 Sam Hornish Jr. got into the back of the No. 99 Carl Edwards who then got into the back of the No. 88 of Dale Jr. Dale Jr. got the worst and spun around causing the caution. He had to pit for tires. Dale Jr. said after the race “Just made some poor choices at the end that got us run over.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished the race a disappointing 21st the last car on the lead lap. He is now only 52 points behind 11th place Kevin Harvick.
All in all, Dale Jr. raced hard all day and didn’t look like he missed a beat. It was a typical Martinsville Speedway race for him although it didn’t end up as well as he wanted. Dale Jr. was asked how it felt to be back in the car. “It felt pretty good. I was just really pissed off about how we finished that race. That was really ridiculous. I mean you’ve got to use a little common sense that was not a good move.” Dale Jr. said. It is obvious he is as ready to go as always.
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