Monday, September 22, 2014
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Earnhardt runs out of tires, still salvages ninth place

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[September 22, 2014]  The Sports Xchange
 
 By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
 
 LOUDON, N.H. -- If Dale Earnhardt Jr. advances to the next elimination round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he can thank his team's collective salvage operation on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, not to mention his own ability to drive on old tires.

It's a rarity in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Earnhardt used his entire allotment of tires during the Sylvania 300, in part because there were 15 cautions and in part because he had to change a set during an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 123 after his crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts properly during the previous stop under caution.

"We had to put on some real old tires there," Earnhardt said. "We ran out of tires, so that last set of tires we put on had some practice laps on them. We still hung in there and had some good restarts. We had fun and I'm glad we were able to rebound--that was pretty dramatic there for a while.

"Had a little issue on the right-front, which is going to happen. We shook it off and we went back to work. The guys gave me great stops after that, and I'm proud of my team. You're going to have mistakes. I'm going to make mistakes, but nobody really got on anybody. Everybody sort of regrouped and we finished out the day."
 


Though he lost a lap because of the unscheduled pit stop, Earnhardt regained it as the highest scored lapped car for a restart on Lap 193. He rallied to finish ninth and heads to next Sunday's elimination race at Dover tied for fifth in the standings with a 28-point edge on 13th-place Denny Hamlin.

And for those who have started to question Earnhardt's viability as a championship contender based on his runs at Chicagoland and Loudon, Earnhardt urges the same sort of patience he showed on Sunday.

"I know everybody is looking at us like we are falling off a little bit," Earnhardt said. "But Chicago hadn't been a great track for us, and New Hampshire hadn't either. Dover has.

"So I'll be surprised if we don't go down there and be competitive. We were racing for a win there last year and ran pretty good there this year. I look forward to going and having a good car."

Great save for Kyle Busch, too

On Lap 188 of Sunday's Sylvania 300, Kyle Busch was the innocent victim of a teammate's spin, but, like Earnhardt, Busch recovered to maintain a solid position in the standings entering the elimination race at Dover.

Matt Kenseth's Toyota got loose off Turn 2 and nicked the Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray, and that started a chain reaction that damaged the cars of Busch and Kasey Kahne.

"Kenseth was trying to race with the guy in front of him to pass him and got loose," Busch said. "I checked up, but not quick enough. I hit him, but then the guy behind me (Kahne), he just drove right through me. He couldn't see what was going on in front of me. ...

"We kept working on it, kept fighting on it and put fresh tires on it every chance we could get, and we came back for a really good finish (eighth), all things considered--and how bad it could have been."

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Making the best of a bad situation

Race day at New Hampshire started miserably for AJ Allmendinger.

His No. 47 JTG/Daugherty was handling like a snow plow. Allmendinger went a lap down to Kevin Harvick, the race leader at the time, on Lap 102.

But Allmendinger capitalized on two free passes as the highest-scored lapped car and some adjustments to his Chevy that finally started to bear fruit. Avoiding the chaos that consumed many of his Chase rivals, he finished 13th and ended the day 10th in the standings with a legitimate shot at avoiding elimination at Dover.

"We really struggled," Allmendinger said. "I was driving my butt off to keep us on the lead lap. We got lucky twice with the Lucky Dog (free pass). Then from there, we started making a couple of adjustments that were pretty good. I was just bad on the restarts; really struggled on restarts. Then with about 100 to go, we got a little bit of track position. I got a good restart there. I could start on the outside and the car was pretty good there.

"I got clear of everybody and thought at that point, if we stayed green, we were going to be pretty good, but we had all those cautions (15 total, five in the last 46 laps). Every caution, I was on the inside (lane) and that just killed me. So to come home 13th is pretty good because at about 150, I thought we were going to be 25th, but also had a point where I thought we would be seventh."

The calamities that befell other drivers, however, made 13th an excellent result for the underdog team.

"There were a lot of mistakes around us," Allmendinger said. "I did everything I could. The guys fought hard. Proud of everybody on this Bush's Beans Chevy. We're all digging hard. We're trying to be the little team that could."

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