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NEWS | Feb. 22, 2011

Promising day ended short for Earnhardt at Daytona

By Courtesy Story

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s promising day ended six laps too soon in Sunday’s Daytona 500, but Earnhardt kept his No. 88 National Guard NASCAR racecar with the lead pack throughout the day, before an accident in the closing laps took him out of contention.

Earnhardt lined up on the pole position for the season-opening event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, after he had locked in the first position after posting the afternoon’s fastest qualifying lap on Feb. 13.

The team had to go to a backup car after wrecking the qualifying car in practice on Feb. 16, and Earnhardt had to drop to the back of the field before the green flag was waved on Sunday.

In the opening laps of the Great American Race, the Kannapolis, N.C., native powered his way through the field, using the two-car draft, cracking the top 10 by Lap 10, where he would stay for a majority of the day’s race.

With Daytona’s recently paved track, the smooth surface allowed the team to employ fuel-only pit stops during most caution periods.

After the day’s seventh caution period, Earnhardt brought the fans to their feet by leaving pit road in the first position. He led the field to a green-flag restart on Lap 79 and paced the field three times for a total of nine laps.

Earnhardt was running 10th on Lap 196 when five lead cars started spinning, and in an effort to avoid the melee, Earnhardt drove through the grass.

He radioed to crew chief Steve Letarte that he thought he had a flat and made his way down pit road, where the team bolted on four fresh tires and added fuel, and Letarte notified his driver that his tire was flat.

The field lined up for a green-white-checkered finish with Earnhardt running 16th, and cars started spinning in the backstretch, collecting Earnhardt in the carnage.

“The guys on the team and back at the shop worked really hard to get us to this point, and we had a fast car and tried to do the best we could today. But it came down to all the carnage out there, too much carnage out there,” said Earnhardt.

A tow truck brought his car back to the garage, and the team was credited with a 24th-place finish.