Earnhardt Jr. a popular sight at front of field

LAS VEGAS — 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.

 Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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.”

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