INDIANAPOLIS — With the luck Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team had Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, maybe nothing would have worked.
Earnhardt finished 36th after his car was damaged on a restart when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne’s car. Earnhardt said cars ahead slowed and it caused a chain-reaction incident.
But Earnhardt could have been higher in the field had crew chief Greg Ives not decided to pit.
Earnhardt pitted on Lap 59 and was going to be one lap short of making it to the end of Stage 2 at Lap 100. The team decided to come back to top off for fuel. They wanted to make sure they didn’t run out of fuel before the stage, knowing that pit road is closed with two laps left in a stage.
Earnhardt restarted 24th.
The caution came out on Lap 72 for JJ Yeley. Earnhardt was 21st.
Ives elected to have Earnhardt pit even though Earnhardt was good on fuel for the end of the stage.
Eight cars did not pit. Had Earnhardt stayed out, he would have restarted fifth with Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Landon Cassill behind him.
That wasn’t good enough for Ives. He explained his decision to pit.
“We would have restarted about fifth or sixth and we would have two not very good cars behind us and we would have just got ate up with 12 laps on our tires,’’ Ives told NBC Sports. “We saw earlier in the race with laps on our tires it wasn’t going to be a good scenario.
“The thing that we needed to happen right there was about 15 (cars) to stay out and (we) had tires and be able to work through them. If I could have been on the front row (without new tires), it would have been different.’’
Ives had to look at different strategies after Earnhardt lost 10 spots on a Lap 52 pit stop. The second lug nut on the right rear bounced away and hit the air gun, clipping a switch, making the air gun tighten the next couple of lug nuts instead of taking them off. That slowed the stop.
“Nothing that the changer can do differently,’’ Ives said. “Nothing that the gun can do differently when you hit your second lug nut and it flies off the wheel and it switches your button on three and four. What kind of luck is that?
“It’s frustrating because any type of scenario we’re trying to put ourselves in to be opposite the leaders, to be different. Yeah, I probably could have done opposite the leader there (on the Lap 72 cation pit stop), wound up fifth or sixth, but it wouldn’t have helped us at all.
“I was trying to at least to continue to maintain and continue to get lap times. The way I looked at it, those were (eight cars) that I could have got by the time the break came. Tires are pretty important. They’re so important that you don’t want to be the last guy without them.’’