By Aaron Burns
Dale Earnhardt Jr. did something on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that he’s done on many occasions throughout this season: he finished in the top five.
Earnhardt’s fifth-place finish in the 5-Hour Energy 301 marked the veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver’s 10th top-five in 19 races, and the eighth top-five of his career at NHMS.
It’s an impressive mark, but it’s also a dubious one: Earnhardt now owns the record for most top-fives at New Hampshire without a victory.
He had a chance to win on Sunday, but Earnhardt – who had fresher tires than the cars in front of him late in the race – didn’t get the caution he needed to catch back up to the front.
It had been a battle already. Earnhardt sustained damage to the left front of his car after contact on a restart two-thirds of the way into the race.
The water bottles didn’t fall his way, either, but there’s plenty of reason for Earnhardt’s team to be optimistic.
He’s got two wins this season – at Talladega in May and Daytona in July – but Earnhardt is far from just a restrictor-plate standout. He has five top-fives on the circuit’s intermediate tracks.
Sunday, though, the only number Earnhardt cared about was No. 1. He’s locked into the Chase, so all he wants are more victories.
And while his No. 88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet was fast, it could’ve used a little bit more speed as the race wound to a close.
“We had a little power issue,” Earnhardt said. “I saw some things on the gauges and was just really down on power. We worked really hard to try to make the car better in the corner, and I had to drive really hard, all day long.
“Had a pretty decent car, just needed to be a little bit better. If we want to come back here and do well in the Chase, we’ve got to get a little more speed. The whole company needs to get working, and we’ll get it. We’ve got a lot of resources and a great team, so we’ll make it happen.”