by Jeff Gluck
But it wasn't all bad, either, as Earnhardt Jr. moved up to 15th in points and is in decent position heading out of the West Coast swing.
So will it be baby steps for his team at this point?
"I hope not," Earnhardt Jr. answered quickly. "I don't want it to be, you know? We're not [freaking] stupid, you know? We made a lot of dumb shit happen last year. I think we're a better team, we're mentally prepared to run these races."
Earnhardt Jr. ran around or in the top 10 until about two-thirds through the race, when he was lapped by then-leader Jeff Gordon.
He took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap after a caution and gained a few positions, but couldn't make up much more ground.
"Once you get outside that top five, man, it's just so hard," he said. "The air is gone off the cars and you're just at the mercy of what's going on around you and there's no downforce. It just feels so much better running in the top five and I just couldn't keep it there."
His pit crew didn't help either. It lost a few positions for him on pit road – and the driver said he lost a few on the track as well.
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