Dale Earnhardt Jr. happy about third-place finish but wonders what could have been

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Even after tying his season best with a third-place finish Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. admits what happened late in the race would weigh on his mind.

“I had (Kevin) Harvick cleared off of (turn) 2,’’ Earnhardt said of their battle late. “I should have pulled out in front of him, but I didn’t. If I’d have pulled in front of him, I don’t know if he would have went to the inside or just pushed me down the straightaway. I think I was fast enough and a little bit better than him and (winner) Jimmie (Johnson) right then at that moment just for about 10 laps, and if I could have got him behind me, I don’t know how their cars would have reacted to the dirty air.

“Maybe I could have gotten by (Jamie McMurray) pretty quickly and won the race. No matter if you come in third, second, you come close, you always think there was something you should have done different. That’s one that’s going to bug me for a few hours. The other side of it is we’ve had a couple tough weeks. We’ve had very fast cars but the results haven’t been very good and we’ve been frustrated, so it was good to get a good finish in the bank to reassure ourselves.’’

Earnhardt’s run marked his second top-10 in the last four races but he’s also had a 43rd at Phoenix International Raceway and a 36th at Martinsville Speedway in that stretch.

Earnhardt’s strong finish Saturday came despite troubles early. He had to pit a second time after the first caution when his pit crew didn’t get all the lug nuts tight on a wheel, putting him 29th for the restart.

“It just seemed like everything was going against us, and we were having trouble sort of beginning our race and getting into a rhythm, and we had to pass a lot of cars tonight,’’ Earnhardt said. “But once we finally got the track position, I thought we were a top‑five car for sure. We didn’t have quite enough for (Harvick) or (Johnson) until right at the end.

“We made some good adjustments. We seemed to have a good pattern of what was working for us, and I think by the end of the race we had our car as good as we had it all night, so that’s a good job on the crew chief when the car is the best on the last run.’’