Earnhardt Jr. earns career-best third in Toyota/Save Mart 350
JUN 22, 2014 6:01p ET
Heading into Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not among the favorites to contend for the win. In fact, Earnhardt Jr. had never scored a top-10 finish on the road course.
Yet, when the checkered flag flew for race winner Carl Edwards, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was charging hard in third.
Making a total of five pit stops throughout the race, Earnhardt Jr. was able to put fresh tires to use in the closing laps as he worked his way to the top three. Crossing the line behind Edwards and his Hendrick teammate, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. recorded his career-best finish at Sonoma.
"Just putting the tires on and getting the strategy right," Earnhardt Jr. said when asked what stood out the most from his run. "(Crew chief) Steve (Letarte), I told him the secret to being a great crew chief is to call every year like it's your last, because he's had the best strategy every week."
The team's trek to a third-place finish was not without its challenges, however, as Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet looked more like it had battled all day on a short track.
"I tried to screw it up there a couple times there in the race," he said, "but calmed down and was able to get a good finish out of it."
Racing hard with Matt Kenseth on Lap 74, Earnhardt Jr. bounced off the curbing and shot into the right rear of Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota. The contact sent Kenseth hard into the tire barriers and brought out the caution flag.
"I got into Matt. I jumped that curb and just jumped in the air and ran into him, totally my fault. Kind of what happened with him last year at Watkins Glen. Just racing a little too hard through there with him and probably should have just let him have the spot."
Following the incident with Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr. also made contact with A.J. Allmendinger, who led a race-high 35 laps, as they exited Turn 11. The contact sent Allmendinger's No. 47 Chevrolet bouncing off a number of cars, ruining his day as well.
Prior to Sunday's race, Earnhardt Jr.'s best finish at Sonoma was 11th.
Take full responsibility for @mattkenseth accident. Jumped the curb beside him and landed in his door. Glad he was unhurt. I got one coming— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 22, 2014
Deal with @AJDinger was weird. Figured I left him enough room but we hopped wheels, his RF my LR. It was tight, didn't think I fenced him.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 22, 2014