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Jeffrey Earnhardt rests by his car after finishing third in Charlotte.
Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media

Earnhardt earns career-best finish: ‘I literally drove my guts out’

CONCORD, N.C. — Jeffrey Earnhardt wasn’t going to let the heat get the best of him in Saturday’s Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In just his fourth start for Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt earned his career-best NASCAR national series result with a third-place finish. Immediately after the race, Earnhardt climbed from his race car and sat on the ground, leaning up against the No. 18 Toyota. Shortly after, Earnhardt made a trip to the infield care center for evaluation, but indicated that he only went as a precaution.

“I’m stubborn, so I didn’t want to come in here,” Earnhardt said. “But I figured it’s best to come in here, let them look at me and make sure I get cooled off and everything’s good.”

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Earnhardt overcame an incident on Lap 142 of the 200-lap event when his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slid into the wall in Turn 3. He clawed his way back in short order to experience a milestone day.

“It was a hot, grueling race,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t help it by knocking the fence down and knocking the crush panels off of it (the car). That definitely don’t help much. … It’s real rough getting into the corner. The car bobbled a little bit, got loose and once you’re up there into the fence, there’s nowhere to chase it except into the wall.

“Luckily, those guys busted their butts, we got it bent out, raced hard and got back on the lead lap,” he added. “We just gave it all we had right there at the end. I literally drove my guts out at the end right there. That’s literally all I had left in the tank.”

The finish was even more meaningful for Earnhardt as the No. 18 team honored Officer Jordan Sheldon with a special paint scheme. Sheldon, a Mooresville, North Carolina, police officer, was killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop earlier this month.

“It meant a lot to me,” said Earnhardt, a Mooresville native. “I wasn’t going to lay down; having Officer Sheldon on the car meant a lot to me. I wanted to make him proud, so I wasn’t about to lay down on the job.”

Earnhardt will compete in the next two Xfinity Series events at Pocono and Michigan and sees it as an opportunity to build momentum — noting it that makes a big difference not having to shake the cobwebs off.

“My goal is to come out and win races,” Earnhardt said. “I know we have the equipment to do it. We just have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. We showed that we can fight strong, even after overcoming adversity like we did with me stuffing it in the fence. It’s a dream come true. I’m having the time of my life this year.”

Steve deSouza, Executive Vice President of JGR Xfinity Series/Development, was impressed following Earnhardt’s strong run, especially given the extreme circumstances and the 29-year-old’s rebound from adversity during the race.

“I think for all the drivers at the end of the race, they’re pretty used up,” deSouza said. “He’s an outdoorsman, he likes hiking and he’s always hunting and things like that, so he’s not working in the gym every day. But he’s physical and obviously, he’s been doing this for a while, so I think that he was ready for it. He gutted it out. It was tough sledding in there today.”

As Earnhardt prepares for two consecutive weeks of racing, deSouza noted that Earnhardt has routinely attended Xfinity competition meetings despite not climbing in the car each week.

“Now he gets to run some races, and so I think and I expect he’ll continue to get better as he gets to run every week” deSouza said. “Some of the things that have not been coming real smooth or real easy right now — just pit-road things, pit-stop things — that’s just about consistency. Now that he’s going to get a little bit of that, I think he’s going to start picking up some. Pleased with what he’s doing, and he’s working hard at it.”

The only question that remained was how Earnhardt would celebrate the small victory of his own on Saturday at Charlotte.

“I’m gonna go home and have a big ol’ crawfish boil,” Earnhardt said with a smile. “I’ll probably drink Pedialyte and keep hydrating a little bit, but I might switch over to a Busch latte after that.”