Earnhardt, who was beginning his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, led a race-high 146 laps to go along with his sixth place finish.
Earnhardt, who is still winless at this half-mile racetrack, looked as though he was ready to silence his critics and break his 88-race winless streak on a day when all eyes were on the chase leaders, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
All it took on Sunday to resurrect the legions of fans that have followed Earnhardt’s bumpy season was for their hero to lead 90 laps as he brought them to their feet after taking control of the race on lap 285 from race leader Jeff Gordon.
"We got toward the front on some pit strategy that worked out really well, and then we had a good enough car at the time to pass the guys that were around us,” said Earnhardt after his seventh place finish during the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Earnhardt added, "A lot of things worked in our favor to get us the lead, then we came out on the pit stop in first and held it all the way until the next caution.”
The driver of the No. 88 after starting the race 28th, began to move up the leader board early on, and by the end of the day finished ahead of eight of the chase contenders.
For his fans, it marked only the second time in 14 starts that NASCAR’s most popular driver was able to finish within the top 10, which gave them another reason to believe that maybe his season won’t be a total loss after all.
“This isn’t quite good enough; we have to run way better than this," said Earnhardt when talking about how his day progressed.
Earnhardt also added that, “I feel pretty confident. That is how I feel. I'm not saying that is reality.” With most of the talk around the NASCAR social sites focusing on his lack of racing skills, along with his lack of dedication towards his team.
“If we get a half-decent car, I feel like I’m smart enough to stay out of trouble and get a decent finish,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Earnhardt also added that, “They worked on it and worked on it and it was actually a top-five, top-three car for sure at the midway point in the race.”
Not only leading a significant number of laps, but Earnhardt’s finish was a breath of fresh air for those who have chosen to continue to support him through his trying season.
This finish could have been the wake-up call they needed after their last couple of seasons have not been up to the standards that come with racing for one the most decorated organizations in the sport. Who knows what lies ahead for the races to come.
One thing is for sure, there are no guarantees in the sport, and just as fast as he led laps and brought the fans to their feet, he could easily keep them in their seats never to rise again.
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