HAMPTON, Ga. – Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a significant one for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Not only did Jimmie Johnson tie his father’s all-time win total, but the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS finished right behind his teammate for Hendrick Motorsports’ 40th all-time one-two finish.
Earnhardt ran inside the top 10 for the majority of the event, which he said was a fun one.
“I’d like to thank the Nationwide guys,” he said. “We had a great car. It was fun to drive.”
Earnhardt said that tires turned out to be the biggest wild card on the 1.54-mile track.
“You had to take it easy on your tires, man, because you could wear them out,” the driver explained.
At the start of the race, he made a run from his 17th starting position all the way up into the top five by Lap 10, using the outside lane to his advantage. However, he said the advance wore his first set of Goodyears out and he started falling back.
“So I learned then it was kind of like old-school racing,” Earnhardt recalled. “You know, everybody just wasn’t hooked up and hauling tail. You had to drive the cars. The cars were a real challenge and I had a great time today inside of the car and enjoyed driving it.”
Earnhardt said that with the track conditions, drivers really had to take care of their tires and be smart about how they drove their cars. Keeping the car straight was imperative for Earnhardt, especially while passing other competitors.
Sunday’s race saw long stretches of green-flag racing, with the first caution flag waving on Lap 210. After another lengthy green-flag run, a caution allowed Earnhardt to pit before overtime, when he said crew chief Greg Ives made some crucial adjustments to the No. 88 Chevy SS.
“Greg made some adjustments to the car to get that clearance I needed on the restart,” the driver said. “Man, that thing flew through (Turns) 1 and 2 just glued to the track real comfortable. Real happy with that.”
After a late-race incident in the Daytona 500 the week before, Earnhardt said the second-place finish was a welcome achievement. A 36th-place finish at Daytona set the No. 88 team lower in the standings to start the season.
“It was critical for us to rebound,” Earnhardt said. “Two terrible finishes in a row would put us in such a deep hole points-wise.”
With his second-place Atlanta finish moving him up to his current 18th-place standing, Earnhardt is excited about the season to come.
“That was awesome,” he said following Sunday’s checkered flag. “It was fun for the drivers, fun for me anyways, and looking forward to the rest of the year with this stuff. We’re just going to keep learning and trying to improve our setups and what works with this package, but should see some great racing on in the rest of the year.”