By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
By lap 56 of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had led more laps in one event this year than he had during the entire 2011 season.
Earnhardt was the class of the field early in the race, leading 70 of the first 73 laps. But a four-tire pit stop on Lap 74 — when most other lead-lap cars took two tires — left Earnhardt mired in traffic, and he was unable to return to the front of the field.
Nevertheless, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet finished 10th and gained one position to fourth in the Sprint Cup standings, 18 points behind leader Greg Biffle.
“We didn’t keep up with the racetrack,” said Earnhardt, who led a career-low 52 laps last year. “The car was really fast at the start of the race. I didn’t give that information to [crew chief] Steve [Letarte]. I don’t think I gave him a good enough understanding of where our racecar was, even though it was really fast.
“The track got really tight on us at the end of the race — something that I should have had a handle on and should have known better and should have not let happen.
“We just didn’t have our adjustments going throughout the day to keep up with the track as it tightened up on us. The [car] was really good all weekend. We had good speed. Hopefully, we can keep bringing cars like that to the racetrack, and we’ll get some opportunities to win.”
BIFFLE TO THE TOP
Greg Biffle didn’t have the car to win Sunday’s race, but he did manage to leave Las Vegas with a consolation prize. After his third third-place finish in as many races, Biffle is the Cup series leader for the first time since June 2005.
As loose as his car was in Saturday’s practice, Biffle had to scramble to claim his third podium finish of the season.
“My car just didn’t turn good enough today,” Biffle explained. “That’s what I lacked. We fought loose, loose, loose in practice, kept working on it, working on it. Finally, at the end of the day, we got it to where it was pretty good.
“Today I was just too tight. Right from the green, I was too tight. We just kind of pecked at it, and we should have taken two, three rounds of wedge out [to change the weight distribution]. We took one out. I just was not aggressive enough.”
Dodge revealed its new 2013 Sprint Cup racecar Sunday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but did little to lift the veil of uncertainty that shrouds the car maker’s future in NASCAR racing.
Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of the SRT (Street and Racing Technology) brand, said his heart is in NASCAR racing, but Gilles allowed that everything is under consideration in the aftermath of Penske Racing’s move from Dodge to Ford next year — including an exit from NASCAR.