NASCAR Phoenix Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Doesn’t Regret Late Pit Call

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

AVONDALE, Ariz.— Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be on the bottom.

After staying out on old tires for the final restart with two laps left in Sunday’s Good Sam 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt knew the bottom lane wasn’t the place to be.

Race leader Kevin Harvick chose the outside lane, putting Earnhardt, who was running second at the time, on the inside. It took just two corners for Carl Edwards, who restarted fourth on fresh rubber, to leave Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet in the dust.

And while Harvick and Edwards knocked fenders on the final lap, with Harvick winning the race by a scant .010 seconds, Earnhardt slipped to fifth at the finish.

“I would have loved to have had the top, so I could get them guys on the bottom and hold them down, but I had the bottom and new tires on the outside of me,” Earnhardt said. “But we finished really good.

“I don’t dislike the call to stay out. We had an awesome car, and that’s three weeks in a row I’ve enjoyed the hell out of driving it. I had a fun day and we ran great—really, really good. I’m proud of my guys.”

Earnhardt said his finish might have been better, had more drivers opted to forego pit stops before the last restart.

“Yeah, I was surprised we finished as good as we did,” he said. “I thought that was a good move to not pit. If a couple more guys don’t pit and we get another guy on the outside in the second row, we (would have been) in good shape.”


Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott got his program going in the right direction at Phoenix International Raceway, fighting his way forward from the 17th starting position to finish eighth in Sunday’s Good Sam 500.

Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 but finished 37th, and after an eighth-place result at Atlanta, he was the victim of a late-race crash and came home 38th last Sunday at Las Vegas.

But on Sunday at PIR, Elliott finished better than he started, running as high as fifth in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

“I thought it was an improvement all day,” Elliott said. “First off, my guys have been bringing such fast race cars to the race track every week since Daytona, and I haven’t been doing a very good job of getting the finishes that they deserve. I’m just happy today that we could finally finish one of these things and get a solid top-10 finish.

“I felt like we made gains throughout the day. The guys did a great job on pit road, picking up spots there. (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) made good adjustments and gave up a couple spots on that last restart, but I was proud of the effort, and hopefully we can take it and try to get a little better in Fontana (Calif., site of next Sunday’s race).”

Elliott, however, didn’t gain much in relation to Ryan Blaney, his prime competition for rookie honors. Blaney restarted 12th for the race’s final two-lap shootout and finished 10th, just two spots behind Elliott.


The early stages of Sunday’s Good Sam 500 had the look of a Kyle Busch victory, but a pit road miscue cost the pole winner dearly.

Busch led the first 74 laps and lost the top spot to Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a two-tire call to everyone else’s four on Lap 53. But on Lap 164 of 313, Busch overshot his pit stall, had to back up slightly and parked too close to the pit wall.

Cramped for space between the wall and the No. 18 Toyota, Busch’s jack man took much longer than usual to raise the left side of the car, and Busch fell to 18th for a restart on Lap 169.

Busch charged back to fourth-place at the finish but never threatened race winner Kevin Harvick after that pit stop.

“We had a really good car today and we ran up front for a bunch of the race,” Busch said. “I’m not sure if we could’ve beat the 4 (Harvick) or not, but given some different circumstances—maybe. But, overall, the car was good.

“Missed it just a little bit on the long runs, for sure. We just can’t quite keep up as good as those guys can on the long side of the run, so that’s kind of where we lost it today. I also screwed us up a little bit on pit road but we were at least able to overcome that.”

Though Busch posted his fourth straight top-four finish to start the season and shares the series lead with Harvick, he’s not thoroughly satisfied with his results so far.

“Yes and no,” Busch said. “You could be happy with top-fives, and you could be happy with running up front and doing those things. Those are the things you’re supposed to do.

“But, ultimately, we’ve got to get to Victory Lane. We’re close. We’ll see if we can hit one here on the west coast swing, maybe next week in California, and put ourselves in (the Chase).”

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