BRISTOL, Tenn. — His back was sore. His car wasn’t swift, but when the checkered flag waved Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had finished second after starting the race two laps behind.
“It’s fun when it’s hard,’’ Earnhardt said with a laugh as he sat on the pit wall, resting his back, which has been sore this weekend.
Hard seems to be a reoccurring theme for Earnhardt, especially on short tracks.
David Ragan made contact with Earnhardt five laps into last month’s Martinsville race, dropping him a lap behind the leaders. Earnhardt needed more than 300 laps to get back on the lead lap before he finished 14th.
Sunday, Earnhardt’s car didn’t respond when the green waved. He went to pit road. It was a battery issue. Once he returned to the track to complete his first lap, the rest of the field was on its third lap.
Earnhardt said that he had the fans in his car on before the race, and “I probably burned the battery up.’’
Earnhardt was back on the lead lap about 120 laps later after not pitting on a couple of cautions early in the 500-lap race.
He worked his way through the field and then was the benefit of good fortune. While Kevin Harvick had a faster car, Harvick repeatedly lamented on his radio how he was having to restart on the inside line nearly every time. Late in the race, Earnhardt restarted on the outside lane — the preferred lane — based on where he was running (an even-numbered spot).
Even with that advantage, passing was tough, and Earnhardt was tougher on some drivers, particularly Ty Dillon.
“I hated it, man, but you had to use guys up,’’ Earnhardt said. “I ran into the side (Dillon), ran into the back of (Dillon). Him and everybody else. You try not to put them into the wall, but you hit them enough and hopefully they’re like, ‘I don’t want any more of that’ and let you go by.’’
It worked to give Earnhardt his second consecutive runner-up finish even if he didn’t have a fast car.
“We had about a 10th-place car today,’’ Earnhardt said. “We got lucky on those last several restarts, starting on the outside of those guys.’’
Earnhardt said the struggles came because of the setup he and crew chief Greg Ives tried this weekend.
“We’re just taking some real big gambles, trying to find extra speed that no one else has,’’ Earnhardt said. “That’s how you do good in the Chase. You get all that stuff figured out and then you save it and unwrap it like a Christmas present at Chicago. Hopefully, you’ve got a lot more speed than anybody else. We tried something that didn’t work, but we’ll go home and science it up and figure out something better.’’
Still, he saw a positive from Sunday’s run.
“Championship teams take 10th-place cars and run second or win,’’ he said. “That’s what we need to do in the Chase.’’