News & Media

Earnhardt Jr., Stewart rally for top-10 finishes

September 17, 2012, Mark Aumann,

JOLIET, Ill. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned a potentially Chase-damaging situation into a positive Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, finishing in the top 10 after having to start at the back of the field following an engine change.

Earnhardt cracked the top 20 within 35 laps and remained in contention for the rest of the day, finishing eighth. That leaves him seventh in the standings, 17 points behind Brad Keselowski, after the first of 10 Chase races.

"If we can be a little bit off and end up with a top-10, then we are in good shape."


"That's how we've been running all year," Earnhardt said. "I'm not getting real excited. To win the championship, we're going to have to turn days like that, those kind of mistakes, around into wins and top-threes.

"Eighth is all right, but I know Brad is going to run well and [Jimmie Johnson] is obviously going to be tough. You can't run eighth every week and win the championship."

Earnhardt qualified fourth Saturday. As he crossed the start/finish line after his run, he reached to take the car out of gear. Instead of neutral, the shifter jumped into third gear. It might have engaged for only a split second, but it was enough to cause a valve to bend after hitting the piston head.

"Yeah, I was just disappointed in myself for making that mistake with the engine and getting us that far back at the start of the race," Earnhardt said.

The No. 88 Chevrolet team changed out the damaged engine Saturday afternoon, but that meant Earnhardt had to start at the tail end of the grid, a position that he felt might have cost him a top-five finish on Sunday.

"We really couldn't overcome the track position," he said. "We had a great car at the first half of the race -- the first 100 or 130 laps we had a really fast car.

"We made a couple of adjustments that just didn't really help us out. We needed help, and we sort of made the car ordinary and just kind of had to maintain track position."

Earnhardt wasn't the only Chase contender breathing a sigh of relief after making the best out of what might have been a bad situation, as Tony Stewart could attest.

Stewart started 29th after a disappointing qualifying effort and finished sixth.

"We probably passed more cars than anybody [Sunday], so not exactly what we were looking for, but we were just a little bit off and we will keep working on it," Stewart said. "But if we can be a little bit off and end up with a top-10, then we are in good shape."

Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle also gained ground throughout the 400 miles. Harvick started 35th and finished 12th, while Biffle went from 22nd to 13th.

Biffle felt like he gave away some spots during the final few laps.

"We were really going good there at the end, and we did our last stop and the car just went bad," Biffle said. "It just got way too loose. ... I don't even really know what happened.

"We were driving up through there and the car was getting better and better and it never fails: the last stop of the day we put our [best] tires on and it went bad."

Biffle's teammate, Matt Kenseth, finished 18th but might have dodged a major bullet after having a shock break and fall off his No. 17 Ford with 100 laps to go. The car was never as good the rest of the way, but Kenseth was able to remain on the lead lap.

"I was in the back and couldn't go anywhere," he said. "My car just wasn't fast enough."