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. 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 race track, and we'll get some opportunities to win."
• Great weekend for Bayne
Trevor Bayne is looking for ways to extend his racing career – and he drove as if his life depended on it.
Bayne scrapped and clawed for a ninth-place finish Sunday to follow his fourth-place run in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas. What Bayne gets for his effort is a week off. Unless sponsorship is forthcoming to keep the 2011 Daytona 500 winner in a Nationwide car at Bristol, he won't race next Sunday.
"A top 10 feels like a win to us, especially with how hard we had to fight all day," said Bayne, who is running a 13-race Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing. "We got the lucky dog [free pass to the lead lap] one time, but we stayed on the lead lap for the majority of every run except for one.
"The sun coming out [late in the race] really helped us. It freed up the car some and [crew chief] Donnie [Wingo] and my engineer worked hard to figure that out, but this is what we needed. We needed some momentum. We hadn't had a top-10 since Daytona , and it feels good to be back at it."
• Biffle to the top
Greg Biffle didn't have the car to win Sunday's race, but he did manage to leave Las Vegas with a consolation prize. After his third third-place finish in as many races, Biffle is the Cup Series leader for the first time since June 2005.
As loose as his car was in Saturday's practice, Biffle had to scramble to claim his third podium finish of the season.
"My car just didn't turn good enough [Sunday]," Biffle explained. "That's what I lacked. We fought loose, loose, loose in practice, kept working on it, working on it. Finally, at the end of the day, we got it to where it was pretty good.
"[Sunday] I was just too tight. Right from the green, I was too tight. We just kind of pecked at it, and we should have taken two, three rounds of wedge out [to change the weight distribution]. We took one out. I just was not aggressive enough.
"I should have taken two, three rounds out of it or raised the track bar a half-inch, maybe pulled rubber out of the left rear – I might have been up their tail pipe [of race winner Tony Stewart] at the end. We had a good run. Even then I don't know if we had a car that was fast enough."