RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave it all he could to get to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series postseason in his final full-time season, but ultimately struggles throughout the 2017 season dug too deep a hole for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team.
Earnhardt spent much of the night in the top 10 at Richmond Raceway and was out front for 13 laps (his most in a race all year, Laps 335-347) as part of a strategy play to stay out as long as possible and hold the lead. However, that came during the longest green flag run of the night (Laps 263-397) and ultimately, the strategy didn’t play out as hoped.
“We were having a great night, but we weren’t going to pass those top five guys so we needed that kind of strategy to try and leap frog them on pit road and we needed the yellow to come out leading,” Earnhardt explained after the race.
“We had everybody trapped down a lap and they would have ended up pitting and getting tires, and the other guys would have gotten the wave around but we would have had that track position finally. We would have come out of pit road after the stop in first or second and that might have set us up good for a run to the finish. We had a car that I think could have won the race if we had that track position.”
Despite spending much of the night in the top 10, Earnhardt settled for a 13th-place finish under interim crew chief Travis Mack. Greg Ives, the regular crew chief for the No. 88 team, was suspended for one race due to a safety violation for missing lug nuts following a post-race check last weekend at Darlington Raceway.
The 42-year-old was reflective about his season to this point and what had led the No. 88 team to be in a must-win spot in the Federated Auto Parts 400. Earnhardt sits 22nd in the point standings and has just four top 10s on the season.
“I’m disappointed,” Earnhardt said about not making the playoffs. “We had some odd luck, but when we didn’t have bad luck, we didn’t capitalize. We had a long summer. We just didn’t capitalize. We didn’t run like we should have. We ran like we should have tonight. If we would have ran like that all year, like we did the last several years, we would have made it, but we didn’t.
“It’s on us. We can’t really put it on anybody else. We just didn’t do the job. We’ll try these next 10 to keep running well. I’d love to win a race but damn, if we can just run as well as we did tonight in the next several races that would be great for all of these guys. They got another year coming up with Alex (Bowman) and they got to get buckled in and get going again.”