Strategy leads to third top-five finish in four Nationwide starts in 2014
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Earnhardt Jr. finished third. Had restarted second. And looked like he would finish fourth. Until race leader Joey Logano had a flat tire.
The tires "weren’t wearing out," according to Earnhardt Jr., thus the call for fuel only during the final pit stop of the day with less than 40 laps remaining.
Differing pit strategy at that point shook up the running order of the race. Logano and Earnhardt Jr. were among those bypassing the tire rack on the last stop. Kyle Larson, who was dominant for a good portion of the race, took tires and restarted 15th; Kyle Busch did the same and was 17th; Chase Elliott fell back to 16th.
Those three rallied, but didn’t have the time, or the laps, to contend for the win.
"The tires were tough, real durable," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We didn’t have to put a lot of fuel in the car, so no need to waste time putting tires on. And we got a ton of track position — went from like ninth or eighth to second.
"That was a big deal."
The third-place finish was Earnhardt Jr.’s third top-five in four starts this season. Besides an 11th-place result at Daytona in February, he finished fourth at Las Vegas and fifth at Texas.
"(The car) didn’t have the balance that we had yesterday," he said. "But (we had) real good strategy, and it was a good finish for us.
"It just runs so much slower here compared to the (Sprint) Cup car," he said of the Nationwide entry. "Like at Charlotte, I don’t think there’s that big of a margin between the speeds; here it was almost two seconds during practice. It’s just so underpowered; you just drive it right through the corner.
"We were running wide open through (turns) three and four today. It just drives easier. The Cup cars seem to be a little bit trickier to balance, to get a good feel."
Earnhardt Jr. will start third in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET, TNT) at MIS.