FORT WORTH, Texas -- Hendrick Motorsports has been limited to two Jimmie Johnson victories this season, but placing four drivers among the top eight finishers at Texas Motor Speedway will rank as one of its better days in 2016.
"The company as a whole is pushing real hard to improve, and there's an impression within the company that we need to grind a little bit and make some gains going forward into the middle of the season here," Earnhardt said. "But I was real encouraged with my car tonight.
"Usually we typically have a top-10 or a top-5 car, but tonight we had one of the best two or three cars, and you can't ask for anything better than that."
The key to the Hendrick success was overcoming various mistakes and pitfalls. Elliott had to start at the rear of the field because of a prerace transmission change. Johnson ran into the back of eventual race-winner Kyle Busch on pit road and heavily damaged the nose of the car. Later, Earnhardt and Johnson had to battle from the back of the lead-lap cars when the caution came out during their pit stops.
For Kahne, he was a lap down at one point but was able to get back on the lead lap thanks to the free pass with 50 laps to go. He was then able to pit for tires and wound up with his best finish in his past 12 Sprint Cup races, which lifted him two spots into 16th in the standings. For a driver trying to find his footing, being inside the Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff, no matter the time of year, is a good thing.
In other words: Hendrick had a day it could build on, and that's something just as important as winning.
"There at the end, we were actually pretty competitive the last probably 250 laps, like really competitive," Kahne said. "We were down a lap a lot of it, but we were really competitive.
"Once we got back up there I think we were definitely a top-10 car and we finished eighth. It was the best we have done in a long time. It feels nice."
Maybe the most impressive performance came from the rookie Elliott, who enjoyed his career-best finish and improved to 14th in the standings.
"I was really happy with it, especially on the long run, and we made some gains throughout the night to try to help our short-run speed," said Elliott, who won his first Xfinity race at Texas in 2014. "I thought we did that.
"We definitely still have some work to do on my end, and we'll keep digging at it. We're definitely not content. We know we have some work to do, and we'd like to be contenders. So we're going to keep working at it."
Earnhardt was stoked to see Elliott mixing it up with him among the leaders.
"It was great to see Chase up there," Earnhardt said. "I got to race with him a little bit, and his car was doing some great things, and he was driving a really good line."
While Earnhardt was pleased, he could see room for improvement, especially with his communication with crew chief Greg Ives, who replaced Steve Letarte prior to last season.
Earnhardt said despite them having worked for more than a year together, they still don't have the rapport they need to have to make the best adjustments.
"I've got to be more descriptive to help him understand how loose or how tight the car is instead of assuming that he's knowing what I'm thinking just by the tone of my voice, I guess," Earnhardt said. "But we'll get there.
"We've just got to spend more time together. One of the things that me and Steve did, was spent time away from the track, and I think that's what me and Greg need to push ourselves to do more of. We'll get to know each other a lot better than what we're seeing at the racetrack. We don't really get to know each other at the track that much because we're working so hard."
Xfinity: Kyle Busch wins, JRM trying to keep pace
In the battle of Xfinity Series multi-car teams, Joe Gibbs Racing is a clear No. 1. And after Texas, JR Motorsports would be a clear No. 2
JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones went 1-2 at Texas with Penske's Brad Keselowski finishing third and then JR Motorsports' Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler in the 4-5-6-7 spots.
Earnhardt, the team co-owner, got a good feel of where his organization's equipment is at, and he feels good about it. He feels his cars lack just a little bit of speed and need to keep working on trying to get to the JGR level.
"Gibbs is super fast," Earnhardt said. "They always are. They've got these cars figured out. They have for 10 years now. We've just got to keep working and maybe we will understand what we need.
"But I'm real happy. Even though we're definitely off a tenth [of a second a lap] or two to them guys all weekend long, we still run better than anyone else. There's something to be proud of in that little aspect."
With the gains in the Toyota engines in the last year, Earnhardt believes that has trickled to the Xfinity Series for JGR. He believes his team is behind a little bit in everything.
"The only way we would understand what they're doing is by getting one of their cars and being able to take a look at it," Earnhardt said. "We'd need it for a few weeks, really, to see much difference. The cars are pretty competitive.
"We're not that far off. They're just smart and they know what they're doing."
Trucks: Spec engine awaits
Teams will be allowed to use a NASCAR spec engine at tracks 1.25 miles in length and shorter, and those races will start coming up in a couple of months.
Kyle Busch, who gets significant support from Toyota, isn't likely to get one. Toyota wants a Toyota engine in its trucks.
"We're leaving our game plan as it is with what we've got with the Toyota support and the Toyota engines that we run in the Truck Series and we'll see how it plays out with the other engines and see if it's a necessity that we need to look toward for next year," Busch said.