Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team found speed in the No. 88 Chevrolet during Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
But after Earnhardt (fifth) scored his first top five in 10 months, he couldn’t help but wonder how to find the little extra that his rivals seemed to have – particularly the Team Penske Fords.
“I mean, I felt like we were pretty good and we ran with the cars that have been really fast,” Earnhardt said. “I think (Brad Keselowski) and (Joey Logano) have been really the class of the field.
“I saw those guys weaving after the race and downshifting hard to reset their housing, so we have to figure out what they are doing and see if we can’t make it better.”
Earnhardt still was in the game after starting 37th because he didn’t take a qualifying lap on the repaved 1.5-mile oval.
He was outside the top 10 after the first stage but was ninth after the second stage and took advantage of a well-timed pit stop with five laps remaining before the closing segment of the race.
The 14-time most popular driver also battled a malfunctioning cooling system that wasn’t directing enough air into his helmet (winning teammate Jimmie Johnson battled the same problem and needed fluids after the race).
Earnhardt said he ran the 500-mile race with his visor up to help with circulation, blaming the lack of air conditioning partly on a windy day at Texas.
“I think it makes it hard to get into the inlet that lets air in the helmet,” Earnhardt said on a postrace Periscope. “It was like a vacuum. I saw Jimmie in victory lane, and he about passed out when he got out of the car. It was super, super hot.”
Earnhardt said Hendrick would evaluate the cooling systems on the Nos. 48 and 88 Chevrolets.
“We have all our stuff routed the same,” he said. “Maybe we need to look at what we’re doing and improve the interior.
“I’m not going to complain too much because Adam (Jordan), my interior guy, one of the greatest guys on earth, is getting married on Easter weekend. One of my very good friends, I’ll talk to him about how to fix the interior or work on the air conditioning when he gets back from his honeymoon.”
Earnhardt scored his best finish since a second on June 6, 2016 at Pocono Raceway. A week later at Michigan International Speedway, he was involved in the crash that caused the concussion-like symptoms that forced him out of the car for the final 18 races of the 2016 season.
“Good run, finally got a great finish,” Earnhardt said on Periscope. “We should have finished better. Maybe even won the race. Our car was good enough for that. I don’t know. I didn’t do everything just right on restarts and stuff. I think we had a fast enough car for sure.
“Always fun to have a good run when you have an off-weekend coming up. I like finishing good before an off-weekend so we can have fun and not think about racing a bit.”