Dale Earnhardt Jr. was close, ohsoclose, to winning the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.
And then he wasn’t.
Despite starting on the pole, Dale Jr. finished a close second to Jimmie Johnson as he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate dominated the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“When they [Earnhardt’s No. 88] lined up right behind me, I thought I was going to have my hands full — and I really did,” Johnson said (via Fox Sports’ Lee Spencer). “Junior drove a whale of a race, and track position really gave me the advantage I needed to hold him off.”
Johnson gained an edge, though, with an Earnhardt pit-road miscalculation. Leading by four seconds on the 117th lap, Earnhardt was told to take a pit stop. He could not, though, slow up in time to get all of his tires below the commitment line and had to make another lap, ceding seven positions and 14 seconds to Johnson.
“I was trying to get in there too hard and just didn’t have my head on me straight trying to get onto pit road,” Earnhardt said. “That was my fault.”
Instead of celebrating the end of his 48-race winless streak, Earnhardt is looking at the larger pitcure. He moved up to 10th in the Sprint Cup Series standings, trailing leader Matt Kenseth by 57 points. With seven races left, he’s only 18 points behind Jeff Gordon, who’s in fifth place.
“We were going to have a hell of a party if we could get to him,” Earnhardt said. “It was still [a good] call. With two tires, we were still going to be one gun short in the battle. Jimmie just had that good of a car. He had the track position that we needed — that we had at the start of the race before I screwed up on pit road and let them all in front of us.”