Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished the Challenger Round at Dover with a lackluster 17th place finish. Although he began the year with a win at the season-opener Daytona 500 followed by two more wins, both at Pocono, the team has taken a wrong turn in the last several weeks. Since his last win in August, his best finish and only top-five, was a fifth place at Michigan.
After Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Earnhardt spoke to the media about the challenges his team encountered during the race.
“We didn’t run good obviously,” he said. “We struggled with our car all day long. I thought we had a lot better car in practice, but we made some changes. I guess they didn’t really work out for us. We were real loose on entry and real tight in the center. The balance was bad at the start of the run and the end of the run. So we never had a moment during the race where the car was very good and competitive. We just missed the set-up pretty bad. We just need to start from scratch when we come back here next year.”
Earnhardt called it a “frustrating day” and expressed his thoughts on the urgency of turning things around as they go into the next round of the Chase.
“Seventeenth was as good as we could run. That’s not good enough to win a championship. But we get to move forward and start from scratch on the next weekend. Trust me,” he continued, “we’re going to go to work and try to find everything we can to get better. But we’re concerned. It’s not been a good couple of weeks. We need to find something quick.”
Earnhardt is right to be concerned. Only eight of the 12 drivers will make it to the Eliminator Round and he is currently in seventh place on the Chase grid. However, it’s important to remember that all 12 drivers will have their points reset to 3000 entering the next round.
But don’t count the No. 88 team out of the running. Earnhardt took to Twitter to reassure his fans that they are in it to the end.
“This one’s over. It’s all back to zero. Can’t quit. Won’t. This team ain’t done yet. Gotta keep working hard. Smart. All the way to Homestead.”
The action returns Sunday, October 5 at Kansas as the top 12 contend for one of those eight coveted positions that will take them to the Eliminator Round and one step closer to the winner-take-all Championship Round.