NASCAR: Earnhardt tries it loose, picks up 3rd

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 22, 2014 

— There’s a new viable road course strategy, at least for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Forget two or three pit stop strategies, Earnhardt employed the “wing it” strategy and it provided him a career-best third-place finish in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

“We had a fast car all weekend. The guys did a good job on the strategy, and gave me great tires at the end so I could be on the offense,” said Earnhardt, whose previous best finish at Sonoma was 11th in 2010.

“I told (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) the secret of being a great crew chief is calling every year like it’s your last because he’s had the best strategy every week. I tried to screw it up there a couple of times in the race but calmed down and was able to get a good finish.”

With two wins already this season and locked into the Chase, Earnhardt elected not to test at a road course and simply go off information from his teammates.

The care-free agenda seemed to pay off although Earnhardt’s good run wasn’t without incident.

On Lap 75 of 110, Earnhardt ran into Matt Kenseth and knocked his No. 20 Toyota into the tire barrier, which did extensive damage to Kenseth’s car.

On a restart on Lap 86, Earnhardt made contact with A.J. Allmendinger which did damage to Allmendinger’s No. 47 Toyota. Allmendinger had led 35 laps – the most in the race – at that point.

“I am sick at my stomach getting into Matt (Kenseth) there. I just hopped that curb, and it threw me right into him,” Earnhardt said.

“I shouldn’t have been running him hard I guess, I just got up on that curb and it just launched me over into the side of his car. I really hope he isn’t hurt too bad.”

Kenseth was not hurt but ended up finishing 42nd and remains without a victory this season.

“I thought there was times when we ran competitively, in the top-10, top-15, somewhere in there. It seemed like everything was going okay up until that point,” Kenseth said.

“You know, on restarts you have to run side-by-side and everybody was real courteous to that point. I just got hit in the right rear and turned and that’s unfortunate.”

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