Sunday’s Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway was a “pretty crazy race” for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and that’s not including the fuel mileage battle that ended with Earnhardt finishing a surprising fourth place and Matt Kenseth earning an even more surprising win.
“I’ve been hearing from everybody how they were blown away a little bit by the ending there, all those guys running out of gas,”Earnhardt said in his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. “I was too, I seen guys running out of gas, I seen us passing people slow on the track, but I didn’t think we had passed that many guys.”
Plenty happened to Earnhardt in the race’s early stages to set up his top-five finish, which was his fifth in six races at the “Tricky Triangle.” The craziness started when he went to pit on Lap 53.
“I didn’t really notice it when the race started but … I got the car slowed down in second gear, and we have these lights on the (tachometer) that will light up and we usually use one or two red lights to let me know that I’m near my speed limit and hold one or two lights to let me know I’m in my window and I can be safe and not speed, but be really close to speeding. It’s the way we’ve always done it. It’s what works.
“The old school method is simply a strip tape on the tach and you line the needle on the tach with a strip of tape.
But the lights weren’t working for Earnhardt and wouldn’t for the rest of the the race.
“Right away, I sort of panicked,” Earnhardt said. “When I got to looking where the needle was, it was above the piece of tape. I always keep the tape on the tach as sort of a backup plan to the lights.”
Caught speeding, Earnhardt found himself back in the pack. On a Lap 72 restart, Earnhardt said he “didn’t see anything in front of me that made a lot of sense.” He planned to wait a few laps before starting to pass cars. But Earnhardt’s attention was entirely on the cars in front of him as the field went into Turn 1, which Earnhardt said is also a blind spot for his spotter, T.J. Majors.
“I didn’t look at the mirror on the left side to see if anybody was on the inside of me,” Earnhardt said. “I’m going to assume (Cole Whitt) was there.”
Whitt was and the cars hit each other “pretty hard” and Earnhardt’s car slid as the rest of the field sped on.
“When I looked at (Whitt’s) car, I saw where the donut from my left rear was behind his right-front tire, so he was up on me pretty good when I came down.”
Earnhardt’s crew beat out the damage to his car and he returned to the track.
But his Chevrolet started experiencing vibrations, which Earnhardt said wasn’t related to his shifter issues of the past.
“We’ve improved and fixed our shifter problems where we were breaking shifters,” Earnhardt said. “It wasn’t a loose wheel vibration, either. The guys assured me everything was good. None of the wheels came off had been beaten up like they were loose.”
Earnhardt said his right rear shook twice on two different sets of tires, which can “knock about a second of speed out of the car.”
After finally getting into clean air, Earnhardt “got lucky” when the leader’s pit strategy based on the expectation of a late caution fell through. It led to a “crazy finish” and Earnhardt finishing fourth for his 11th top-five finish of 2015.
“Any other race, nine times out of 10, you’re going to get that yellow,” Earnhardt said. “Sometimes you get lucky.”