Solid run for Earnhardt Jr.

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 30:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, VA – MARCH 30: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va.— In all honesty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished as high as he could have hoped in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville — third.

Earnhardt had the best seat in the house for the decisive battle between race winner Kurt Busch and runner-up Jimmie Johnson, but he didn’t have enough left to mount a change at the end of the race.

The key to Earnhardt’s success was self-restraint.

“You had to just discipline yourself to not use the throttle,” said Earnhardt, who regained the series lead by nine points over second-place Matt Kenseth. “I think we’ll have a lot of fun looking at the throttle trace on some of the runs, because I was quarter-throttle at the max…

“I was real patient all day, saving the left rear and just waiting till the end to see where we’d be. Inside 38 laps to go, I thought everybody was going to go like hell, and we all did and ended up running third.”

As the laps wound down, Earnhardt’s car began to fade.

“I was losing my car pretty fast the last five laps, so I didn’t have anything else to get there (to Busch and Johnson),” he said. “I got a couple of lapped guys give the outside instead of the inside. That’s their right, but that cost me a little time and maybe some wear on my tires.

“I thought when we passed the 22 (Joey Logano, for third) we might be able to roll up there and get in the middle of the race for the win, but, no, those guys’ cars, they were pretty good.”

MORE FRUSTRATION FOR BOWYER

With 50 laps left in Sunday’s STP 500, Clint Bowyer grabbed the lead, but a subsequent caution and a mistake on pit road proved his undoing.

After Carl Edwards spun on Lap 459 to bring out the 14th caution of the afternoon, Bowyer led the field to pit road. But a problem with the right rear tire led to a slow stop that mired the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in 10th place for a restart on Lap 466.

“Disappointed,” Bowyer summed up his feelings in a single word. “We had the lead there at the end and had trouble in the pits and came out 10th. We just didn’t have enough laps to make it up.

“Just really disappointed. Felt we could have had the win there.”

Last week at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.), Bowyer was running second when he blew a left-rear tire with less than three laps left in the Auto Club 400. Bowyer is 17th in the series standings, with just one top 10 in six starts.

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