While Noah Gragson celebrated an emotional win at Richmond Raceway, his teammate and boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., emerged with a smile across his face following a 14th-place run in his lone NASCAR Xfinity Series scheduled event of this season.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion and 15-time NASCAR Cup Most Popular Driver started 30th based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Earnhardt Jr., who drove his own-operated No. 8 Unilever “United for America” Chevrolet Camaro from JR Motorsports, wasted no time methodically working his way towards the front.
By the fifth lap, he was up in 24th. Nearly five laps later, he cracked the top 20 on the track. He remained in the top 20 and settled in 19th place when the competition caution flew on Lap 35.
When the race proceeded, Earnhardt Jr. continued to run inside the top 20, which he settled in, 19th, as the first stage concluded on Lap 75.
After pitting for four fresh tires and adjustments to his car, Earnhardt Jr. restarted the second stage in the top 15. Nearing the Lap 100 mark, he managed to crack the top 10, running in ninth place at one point, before settling in 12th place when the stage concluded under caution on Lap 150.
Following a four-tire pit stop under caution, Earnhardt Jr. made another appearance in the top 10 when the final stage started. By Lap 169 of 250, he was scored in seventh. During a caution period under the final 70 laps, Earnhardt Jr. elected to remain on the track on old tires, which placed him in third. Despite restarting towards the front, Earnhardt Jr. was quickly overtaken by competitors on fresh tires.
With less than 30 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. pitted for fresh tires. Then, he was sent to the rear of the field after speeding on pit road, which effectively ended his hopes for a win. After making light contact with the outside wall to avoid an incident with 12 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. was able to continue and make his way up in 14th place through the final seven laps under green and when the checkered flag waved.
While he did not contend for the win against his teammates and fellow competitors, Earnhardt Jr.’s top-15 result marked his first NASCAR event since competing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in June 2020 and his ninth Xfinity Richmond start.
“[The young competitors] race hard there in the middle of the pack, especially around me,” Earnhardt Jr. said on NBCSN. “I was up for it. It was fun. We got to beating on some of them guys. They beat back on us. We got fenced off of Turn 4 and then, off of Turn 2 there late, but we didn’t have the car that I was looking for. Maybe, I just couldn’t figure out how to get it around the track. We tried hard and tried to make adjustments, couldn’t really figure out how to make the left front work. The car’s real tight, but it was fun. I love racing in the Xfinity Series. All these guys got so much heart and they just race so hard. You can tell they’re trying to prove themselves. It’s so much fun being out there with them and learning about those guys. You get to see how they race.”
While his racing schedule for this season is complete, Earnhardt Jr. did not rule out competing in another Xfinity Series event for the 2022 season.
“[I] Had fun,” Earnhardt Jr. added. “I’d like to do another [race]. Can’t wait to get back in [the car].”
Rookie Sam Mayer is scheduled to pilot the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro for the remainder of this year’s Xfinity Series schedule, beginning next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.