DOVER, Del. – The mistakes can’t be overlooked, but they can be forgiven after Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied Sunday to advance to the second round of the Chase.
Earnhardt’s third-place finish at Dover International Speedway atoned for issues on pit road the past two weeks. He beat Jamie McMurray on a tiebreaker for the final transfer spot to the second round.
Earnhardt survived Sunday despite pitting an extra time under caution for loose lug nuts on the left-rear wheel and then had a loose left rear wheel just before a caution with 46 laps to go.
Those issues came a week after Earnhardt ran out of fuel in the final laps at New Hampshire, costing him about 20 spots. With those points, he would not have had to pass McMurray for position with 20 laps to go to advance.
“Last week in New Hampshire, we put ourselves in a bad position, but I knew we were a good enough team to make it to the next round,’’ Earnhardt said on pit road after first chatting with McMurray.
Ives carried that New Hampshire finish with him into this weekend.
“I’m not new to this crew chiefing deal, but I’m definitely (new) to this kind of Chase format points situation,’’ Ives said. “I learned from it. The team rallied around me and didn’t point fingers. That’s what the team is about. I wasn’t going to give up on it. I knew in order to redeem myself I had to bring a fast race car.’’
He did. Still, Earnhardt had to overcome the loose wheel issues.
Ives said the team returned to pit road on Lap 115 to tighten loose lug nuts. Earnhardt began experiencing a loose left rear wheel with about 50 laps to go. Ives said that they had three lug nuts that were tight and a fourth that was “starting to come loose.’’ The caution on Lap 355 for Brett Moffitt’s accident allowed Earnhardt to pit to fix that issue.
“We’re moving some pieces around for our pit crew to try to really hit on some magic and consistency,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys. We can’t have loose wheels. Just can’t have them. Those guys are going to work hard. I believe in them. I make mistakes. They made mistakes. We all try to rebound. They gave me a good four or five lugs on that last pit stop.’’
On the final restart with 24 laps to go, Earnhardt was eighth and McMurray sixth.
Earnhardt found his chance to pass McMurray with 20 laps to go. McMurray and Matt Kenseth were running the bottom lane when Earnhardt went high.
“Just went around them somehow,’’ Earnhardt said. “Just drove it in there and it stuck’’
McMurray could not get back by and Earnhardt earned the right to keep racing for a championship. The tiebreaker – best finish in the first round of the Chase – was determined by this race since it was the best finish for both in this round.
Despite some problems this weekend, Earnhardt credited his team for what he was able to do.
“They have given me so much confidence to go for it and get aggressive and do what we need to do,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’ve become a lot of better driver the last five years working with this group.’’