Earnhardt Jr. impresses in lone NASCAR start of 2020

In his lone NASCAR Xfinity Series start of this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on a thrilling show at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the competition, his pit crew, the studio crew at or absent from the track and the fans watching from home. After spending the majority of the day battling for the lead against NASCAR’s future generation of stars, Earnhardt Jr. would take the checkered flag in fifth following a two-lap shootout to the finish.

Starting 12th based on a random draw and in his No. 8 Hellmann’s Chevrolet Camaro from JR Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr. carved his way into the top 10, settling in seventh by Lap 20 when the competition caution flew. When the race returned to green on Lap 25, Earnhardt Jr. continued racing inside the top 10. With two laps remaining in the first stage, the caution returned due to an engine failure in Kody Vanderwal car, which forced the first stage to conclude under caution. By then, Earnhardt Jr. finished in seventh.

The second stage was where Earnhardt Jr. started to flex his muscles as he moved into the top five and started to set his sights toward the lead and in the mix of a battle with teammate Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric. By Lap 57, Earnhardt Jr. was in second and continued battling with Gragson, Chastain and Cindric for the top spot. When the second stage concluded, Gragson would win the stage as Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth behind Cindric and Chastain.

Following a stellar pit stop under the stage break, Earnhardt Jr. exited pit road with the lead where he led four laps under caution. On the following restart, with 80 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. would be overtaken for the lead as he fell back to fourth. For the majority of the final stage and in a 75-lap green-flag run, he would settle within the top five and reignite his battle for the lead with Chastain, Cindric and Gragson.

With 31 laps remaining, following a late cycle of green-flag pit stops, Earnhardt Jr. was in second, pursuing Gragson by double digits. When a late caution returned with seven laps remaining for a single-car spin in Turn 1, Earnhardt Jr. pitted with the field and exited third.

On a two-lap shootout to the finish, Earnhardt Jr. restarted in third behind Gragson and gave his teammate a shot for him to retain the lead, but both JR Motorsports’ competitors would be overtaken for position at the start of the final lap. When the checkered flag flew, Harrison Burton stormed to an upset win while Earnhardt Jr. settled in fifth, two spots behind Gragson.

The top-five result was Earnhardt Jr.’s 70th of his Xfinity Series career, which came in his 142nd series start. It was also his 354th top-10 result between the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, a result that left one of NASCAR’s Most Popular Drivers and former Daytona 500 champion satisfied with his run.

“Man, I was so rusty,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You see I was having trouble getting around [Chastain] there early in the race. That’s just ’cause I don’t have enough time to be able to trust where the car’s gonna end up, setting it in the corners. It was a lot of fun. I was rusty all the way through. We had it sailing there a few times, got some good speed out of the car, we were gaining on [Gragson] and I thought, ‘I’ll just keep driving it. No reason to try to save anything.’ He was so good on them long runs, we weren’t gonna catch him anyways. Hate we got that late yellow [flag] because our cars didn’t fire off very good. You saw it at the end of the race. We couldn’t go. It takes our cars a couple of corners.”

Even with his solid run, Earnhardt Jr. will hang up his helmet and fire suit for this season as Daniel Hemric will return to the driver’s seat of the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro the following day, June 14, where he will be one of four competitors contending for the second Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus.

“I’m gonna let [Daniel Hemric] have at it [tomorrow],” Earnhardt Jr. added. “That’s a lot of fun. This is a top, elite form of motorsports, in my mind, next to Cup. It’s not easy to get out there and compete with them boys. They’re so good and race so hard. My time’s running out.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s other two teammates, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier, finished sixth and 32nd.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will return for its second race of a doubleheader weekend at Homestead the following day, June 14. The race will air at noon ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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