Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes points lead
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally got some good news at Indy.
Earnhardt moved into the NASCAR Sprint Cup series points lead with a fourth-place finish Sunday in the Brickyard 400. It was his best finish in 13 starts at the famed Speedway, and it moved him 14 points ahead of previous leader Matt Kenseth, who finished 35th after a crash.
Earnhardt said he'd like to win again - he snapped a streak of 143 races without a win earlier this season at Michigan - but he appreciates where his team is positioned.
"We've persevered all year, and we've done good work all year," Earnhardt said. "I think it is a bit of a confidence booster, something I'm proud of because we've worked hard all year and we've got something to show for it."
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson won the race to move up to fourth in the standings.
Earnhardt started 20th before moving up the field. He entered the day confident that the car had speed, despite the mediocre qualifying effort. Even with the speed, it was a challenging day.
"We got about as good a finish as we could today with the way we were handling," he said. "We weren't the best car, but we finished in the top five."
Now, the team needs to close the deal.
"We've just got to get a good finish this year," he said. "We had a good car last year, we just didn't get a good finish."
Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon, who finished fifth, is impressed with the way Earnhardt and his crew have performed.
"They've been solid this year," Gordon said. "Give them a lot of credit. It's really awesome that they're out front. They've been consistent and if they can keep that consistency up and even take it up a notch, it's going to be rough the rest of the championship."
EDWARDS FADES EARLY: Carl Edwards said Saturday after qualifying second that he didn't know what it was like to have good track position.
Turns out, he didn't have it for long. He had an engine malfunction during lap 13 that dropped him two laps behind the leaders after a stop that lasted one minute, four seconds. He finished 29th.
Edwards had raced seven times at Indy, but started in the top 10 just twice, with a best start of ninth. Despite the less-than-ideal starts, he finished second in 2008, seventh in 2010 and ninth in 2006.
With Edwards switching from Bob Osborne, who is dealing with unspecified health issues, to new crew chief Chad Norris, the team was hopeful after the strong performance during qualifying. Instead, Edwards posted his worst finish in eight starts in Indy.
Edwards was concerned about morale.
"Right now, we are going to talk to the guys. Chad and I want to make sure they know that we do not quit. We keep going. We don't give up. We put our best effort out there, and if it is meant to be, it will be."
Edwards left Indy in 12th place in points and in danger of missing the chase for the championship. The performance has changed his approach for the rest of the season.
"I don't think we are racing for points anymore," he said. "I think we are officially only racing for wins."
CLEAR THE WAY: Tony Stewart again sliced his way through the field, but didn't get as far as he had hoped.
The Columbus, Ind., driver's average starting position had been 18th at Indy before this year, yet his average finish was seventh and he had two wins. This year, he started 28th and finished 10th, yet felt he could have done better if some slower drivers had let him by.
"There is just guys who just forget about what we are supposed to be doing here," he said. "They are more worried about blocking the guys behind them than trying to figure out how to pass the guys in front of them."
Gordon offered similar thoughts.
"I don't understand why there are cars that are running with no problems out there that are 10, 20 laps down, how that's minimum speed," he said. "They need to change minimum speed. I appreciate a rookie out there trying to get laps, but laps without some pace is not doing him any good anyway, and if you are running that pace, then move out of the way of the leader.
Both still added to their history at Indianapolis. Stewart has nine top-10 finishes in 14 starts. Gordon led one lap, meaning he has been out front for at least a lap in 12 of his 19 Brickyard starts.
LUGNUTS: NASCAR estimated the attendance at 125,000, down from 138,000 last year. ... Sam Hornish Jr. finished 16th in his bid to become the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. Hornish won the Indy 500 in 2006 with a classic pass against Marco Andretti on the final straightaway. Hornish made is his third straight in place of the suspended A.J. Allmendinger.
Updated July 29, 2012