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NASCAR: Earnhardt Jr. finishes 40th

By Mark Long
Associated PressCONCORD ó It may have been somewhat fitting that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his National Guard team seemingly took Monday off.
After all, it was Memorial Day.
Earnhardt, mired in a season-long slump that even has car owner Rick Hendrick scratching his head, had his worst showing of the year at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt ran near the back of the pack most of the afternoon and finished 40th in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600, his worst showing since he was 41st in last season’s finale at Homestead. He was two laps down when the race was called because of showers.
It was Earnhardt’s third consecutive finish outside the top 25, and he’s been 20th or worse five times in the last six Sprint Cup events. His previous worst finish this year was 39th at California.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammates have been considerably better. Jimmie Johnson has seven top-10 finishes, Jeff Gordon has one more than that and Mark Martin has two wins in the last five weeks. They were better Monday, too.
Johnson ran up front all day but wound up 13th because of the final red-flag situation. Gordon finished 14th in what he called a “horrendous” car, and Martin was three spots further behind after being penalized for losing a tire on pit road.
Each passed Earnhardt not once but twice.
His No. 88 Chevrolet was so bad that after several unsuccessful attempts to get the car straightened out he seemingly conceded over the radio.
“Since I’m getting lapped so much, help me get out of their way,” he told spotter T.J. Majors. “Just do that.”
Earnhardt joined Hendrick before the 2007 season, and many believed getting the sport’s most popular driver in the sport’s best equipment would land Junior in Victory Lane as often as Johnson and Gordon.
Earnhardt won once last season, at Michigan in June, but has been pretty mediocre in the 33 races since. He’s finished outside the top 20 a telling 14 times in that stretch.
Hendrick said there have been several meetings and tons of information sharing with his other teams in hopes of finding some solutions.
Nothing worked Monday.
Earnhardt started 27th and was at the back of the field after 100 laps. He was too loose early, fighting to stay off the wall, then too tight a bit later.
“We’re gonna try a bunch of stuff here,” crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said before one pit stop.
After Earnhardt’s final pit stop, he sounded like someone who would have been glad to see the race called just past the halfway point.
“I guess this is the best it’s gonna be,” he said.

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