Dale Earnhardt Finally Breaks Top-Twenty Following Texas – With a Bit of thanks to Jimmie Johnson!
By Kent Whitaker:
It was something that Dale Earnhardt Jr fans have been waiting for since the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series waved the green flag at the Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet started 2017 with a DNF at the Great American Race and things had not gotten much better since.
Earnhardt entered the race at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend sitting outside of the top-twenty in points. Heading into the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Earnhardt had not broken the top-10 in any race this season. That painful statistic finally fell by the wayside as the sport’s most popular driver finished 5th.
It was something that Earnhardt noted almost as soon as he climbed from his car.
“We needed this bad,” Earnhardt said smiling as he spoke with reporters.
Earnhardt Gives Jimmie Johnson a Shout-Out
Following the race Earnhardt pointed out one factor that may have played a role in his good run. The driver touched on how he had been stepping up his exercise routine with Jimmie Johnson who is well known as a fitness guru on the Cup Series circuit.
During the race the outside temperature pushed towards the high 80’s with reading well past 100 degrees in many of the race cars. Earnhardt touched on a how Johnson, the race winner, had been working with him on being more physically fit for 2017 which includes lots of miles riding a bike.
Earnhardt said he rode 20 miles on both Friday and Saturday. But, in his trademark style -he pushed the attention over to his teammate when it came to who worked out more.
“Jimmie rode like 100 miles!” he added.”
Earnhardt also gave full credit to his crew for the work they did over the course of the weekend but touched base on a small item that may be a problem when it comes to Hendrick cars running in hot conditions. The driver said he ran much of the race with his visor open and head positioned in a manner to try and get as much cool air into his helmet and fire suit.
“It was kind of like a vacuum, pulling air out of helmet going down one side of the track so I just ran with the visor up all day,” Earnhardt said about the heat inside the car. “I was glad to see that late caution so I could get some Gatorade and cool off a little bit. It was hot.”
This is notable because following a short celebration in victory lane the race winner, teammate Jimmie Johnson, paid a visit to the in-field medical center. He was suffering from issues from the heat stemming from a faulty device that delivers fluids to drivers during the race.
Does this Mean Earnhardt is Back?
There’s good news and bad news! Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr had an amazing run at Texas. The fifth-place finish pushed him into the top-twenty. In addition, the team seemed to fare well overall with no crazy mistakes. The pit strategy worked and kept Earnhardt near the front all day. Well, at least “nearer” to the front pack of cars that has previously happened in 2017.
The bad news is this. One race does not mean everything is back on track. Earnhardt has started behind the eight ball in just about every race this season. It has been a combination of wrecks, unloading uncompetitive cars, flat tires, and more.
The Texas race may signal a turning point for Earnhardt this season but it may be a few good races in a row before that’s a proven fact. Who knows, Dale Earnhardt Jr may in up the 2017 NASCAR Champ. If he does; you can bet that he’ll probably talk about Texas Motor Speedway being a pivotal point along the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kent Whitaker, often called ‘the Deck Chef,’ is a sportswriter, culinary writer, and cookbook author with fourteen titles. He covers NASCAR, racing in general, Football, barbecue, grilling, and tailgating. You can visit him on www.thedeckchef.com .”