Unless he comes out of retirement, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not add a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship to his resume.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner, and two-time Xfinity champion needed a win in order to make the 16-driver field. He had all season to earn one, but came up short. He had one final chance Saturday night at Richmond.
Earnhardt Jr. raced from a 21st place starting spot and was soon inside the top 10. He just didn’t seem to have enough speed to contend for the win. He needed a miracle and nearly got one. During a round of green flag pit stops, interim crew chief Travis Mack, who replaced regular crew chief Greg Ives, home with a one race suspension after a lug nut violation at Darlington, held Earnhardt out. Earnhardt took the lead, and hoped for a caution.
It never came, and Earnhardt finally had to surrender the lead before he ran out of gas. He finished 13th.
“That was the only way we were going to win the race,” Earnhardt said. “We weren’t going to pass the top three guys. I mean, we had speed. We could run up to fifth and sixth. We weren’t going to get around those five guys running in front of us. So, we had to pull that strategy. If the caution comes out while we’re leading, then we got that track position we need.”
“We ran around the 42 (Larson) and a lot of guys tonight,” he added. “I think we had the speed in the car to keep that track position once we got it. I think if we could have got a restart on the front row late in the race, we would have had a shot at it.
“Real proud of the guys. Greg (Ives) did a good job of preparing us going into this weekend. The guys stepped up, every one of them were more vocal, worked really hard. Had a great car. That’s the way we should have run all year.
Apologize to our fans we’re even in this situation we’re in tonight. We believe in ourselves, and we should have been locked in before we got here. But wasn’t a great season performance‑wise, but we got 10 to go. Tonight showed us that we can certainly run well if we work hard.
So we’ll see if we can get a few more good runs. Maybe a win, you never know. Never know, you just got to keep going. Talladega is the racetrack that anybody can win at.
We’ll keep plugging away and see if we can’t have some fun before the end of this season. It was a fun night, though. It was great to run with the leaders, run up front. We haven’t done that in a long time.”