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NASCAR: Earnhardt Jr. enjoys strong showing

By Mike Harris
Associated Press
LOUDON, N.H. ó Dale Earnhardt Jr. had one of the most satisfying 13th-place finishes in his career Sunday at New Hampshire.
Gas strategies and a rain-shortened race probably cost the crowd favorite a better finish, but Earnhardt spent most of the 273 laps in the top 10 and ran quite a bit in the top five.
“We ran good today,” said Earnhardt, who was in only his sixth race with crew chief Lance McGrew. “I want to thank Lance and the team. … They did a good, man, giving me a good car. I had fun today. I hope we can keep this up.
“Being around fifth and looking at the top five, that was great. Seeing the leaders most of the day in your windshield is better than where we have been.”
Earnhardt moved up one spot in the standings to 19th with nine races remaining until the start of the Chase for the championship, which will include only the top 12 drivers.
“We are inching so slowly up back in to where we need to run,” he said. “It is taking a while but, hopefully, we keep moving forward.”
nUNHAPPY GUYS: Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers were both upset with Kyle Busch after being knocked out of the race in an eight-car crash just past the halfway point.
It appeared Earnhardt spun his tires on a restart on lap 175 and, when Truex slowed behind him, Busch ran into the rear of the Truex car and ignited the melee.
Busch was able to continue, and Truex stood on the track as he went by and made as if to throw his helmet at the No. 18 car.
“I guess Kyle just decided he didn’t want to lift, so I was just an innocent victim today,” Truex said. “Someone spun the tires and our lane didn’t go. Kyle just lost his head like he usually does when something bad happens.”
Vickers was just as tough on Busch.
“While I was in the care center, I saw the replay and it looked like the 18 was just completely impatient ó very normal,” Vickers said. “Just hooked the (No.) 1 (Truex) in the right rear and turned him in front of the field. If you wreck somebody on the straightaway, you kind of should be black-flagged for it. But that’s NASCAR’s call, not my call.”
Vickers added, “I guess everybody just learns to expect Kyle doing something stupid. Stupid is forever.”
Busch took the blame.
“Unfortunately, I have to apologize to all those guys on the restart,” he said. “I got into Martin and I hate it for him and Jeff Burton and those guys. It was just hard racing on a restart.”
n
OFF THE AIR: Regular play-by-play announcer Bill Weber was replaced in the TNT booth by Ralph Sheheen.
No explanation was given by TNT, which released a statement saying: “Bill Weber will not be part of TNT’s NASCAR coverage of the Cup Series from New Hampshire this weekend. As this is a private issue, it’s the policy of the company not to discuss personal matters involving our employees.”
The statement did not specify if the change was for only this race.

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