Dale Earnhardt Jr. to back of field

Updated: September 15, 2012, 8:06 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- An engine change following Saturday's qualifying will force Dale Earnhardt Jr. to start from the back of the field in Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Earnhardt
Earnhardt

Earnhardt qualified fourth, but shortly after his run, crew chief Steve Letarte opted to make the switch, which under NASCAR rules requires the team to move to the back.

"I don't think we are super concerned,'' Letarte said. "We had a great car in practice and qualified really well, so we showed we have good speed. Fortunately, this is a racetrack that there are multiple pit strategies and it's not a really simple straightforward pit strategy to call.

"There will be a lot of opportunities to use our good pit stops and place on pit road to get back towards the front."

The furthest back a driver has won from at Chicagoland is 32nd, which Kevin Harvick did in 2002. Tony Stewart won last year's Chase opener from 26th en route to his third title.

The average starting position of the winner at the 1.5-mile track is 15.1. Only once, Kyle Busch in 2008, has the pole winner won the race. Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, will start form the pole on Sunday.

"Track position is real important,'' Earnhardt said after qualifying. "It's not easy to pass the competition here because the competition is so close.''

Earnhardt was happy with his car after qualifying and did not indicate at the time there would be a change. He said it was at least a top-5 car for the race.

"It has good speed,'' he said. "We liked the changes that we were making, liked the way the car was responding.''

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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