If Dale Earnhardt Jr. advances to the next elimination round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he can thank his team’s collective salvage operation on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, not to mention his own ability to drive on old tires.
It’s a rarity in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Earnhardt used his entire allotment of tires during the Sylvania 300, in part because there were 15 cautions and in part because he had to change a set during an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 123 after his crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts properly during the previous stop under caution.
“We had to put on some real old tires there,” Earnhardt said. “We ran out of tires, so that last set of tires we put on had some practice laps on them. We still hung in there and had some good restarts. We had fun and I’m glad we were able to rebound—that was pretty dramatic there for a while.
“Had a little issue on the right-front, which is going to happen. We shook it off and we went back to work. The guys gave me great stops after that, and I’m proud of my team. You’re going to have mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes, but nobody really got on anybody. Everybody sort of regrouped and we finished out the day.”
Though he lost a lap because of the unscheduled pit stop, Earnhardt regained it as the highest scored lapped car for a restart on Lap 193. He rallied to finish ninth and heads to next Sunday’s elimination race at Dover tied for fifth in the standings with a 28-point edge on 13th-place Denny Hamlin.
And for those who have started to question Earnhardt’s viability as a championship contender based on his runs at Chicagoland and Loudon, Earnhardt urges the same sort of patience he showed on Sunday.
“I know everybody is looking at us like we are falling off a little bit,” Earnhardt said. “But Chicago hadn’t been a great track for us, and New Hampshire hadn’t either. Dover has.
"So I’ll be surprised if we don’t go down there and be competitive. We were racing for a win there last year and ran pretty good there this year. I look forward to going and having a good car.”