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Talladega recap: Earnhardt takes second

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 26, 2009)—Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided a late-race accident as he drove his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet to a second-place finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt’s top-five finish—his first of 2009—was the best among the Hendrick Motorsports lineup, most of which were affected by accidents. Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, took 30th after getting involved in a crash with seven laps to go.

“It’s tough to race here,” Johnson said. “I’m mean it’s just disappointing how many hours go into these cars, and then we come out here and tear them up like we do. We were smart all day long, and I think the field in general did a pretty good job.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/Pepsi Throwback Challenger Chevrolet, and Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet, both were victims of an early, 14-car accident on Lap 8. They finished 37th and 43rd, respectively.

After Sunday’s race, Gordon ranks second in the driver standings, while Johnson is third. Earnhardt improves three spots to 15th, and Martin ranks 18th.

After the green flag dropped on Sunday, Earnhardt climbed from his 11th-place starting spot and took the lead by Lap 5. He led seven times for 20 laps during the event, which featured 57 lead changes, and was contesting for the top spot down the stretch.

With one lap to go, Earnhardt was drafting then-leader Ryan Newman when the No. 99 and No. 09 cars teamed up to make a run for the lead. Brad Keselowski in the No. 09 was unable to pass the No. 99, which was trying to block for the win, and he made contact. The nudge spun out the No. 99. Newman was collected in the accident, but Earnhardt held steady on the bottom of the racetrack and followed winner Keselowski for the runner-up finish.

“I was behind the No. 39 and I asked Tony Jr. (Eury, crew chief) what to do because I couldn’t see what they were doing up there; if they’re wrecking,” Earnhardt said afterward. “He said, ‘They’re spinning up the track; stay on the bottom.’ It was a pretty hard hit that Ryan had.

“I had a blast today. The National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet was running good all day long. It run up front. I love these fans here. These fans here enjoy watching a race like that. It got a little boring sometimes in the middle, but, man, it’s just a long one. We all just try to stay around until the end. I can’t thank my team enough, and I’m so proud of Brad.”

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