Earnhardt Ends Up 14th in Final Michigan Race

Tyler Overstreet | JR Motorsports | 8/13/2017

Axalta Dale Jr. Michigan NASCAR News

Dale Jr. battled a loose race car throughout the Pure Michigan 400 on his way to a 14th-place finish.

Race: Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway
Track Specs: 2-mile D-shaped oval / 200 laps
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 73 degrees
Race Winner: Kyle Larson
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 14th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. recorded a 14th-place finish in his last NASCAR Cup Series start at Michigan International Speedway. The finish moved the No. 88 team up one position to 22nd in the series standings through 23 races.

At the drop of the green flag, Earnhardt began picking off positions as he moved from 19th to 15th in the opening lap. The quick advancement leveled off a bit as the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet began loosening up as the opening run wore on. The former two-time Michigan winner ran 17th before making his first pit stop at Lap 41. After the cycle of green-flag pit stops, Earnhardt found himself running 17th at the end of the first stage.

Crew chief Greg Ives made several chassis adjustments to Earnhardt’s Axalta Chevrolet during stage two as the No. 88 continued to fluctuate between 15th and 20th place. The feedback remained the same with Earnhardt battling a loose handling condition on both entry and exits of the two-mile track’s high-speed turns. By the end of stage two, Earnhardt was scored 19th.

Ives called for another set of adjustments between stages in an attempt to remedy the loose conditions. The initial feedback from Earnhardt was that they’d gone way too far and tightened his Chevy up too much, but the car began improving over the long haul as Earnhardt climbed from 24th to 18th before the caution waved again at Lap 139. The break in the race offered another opportunity for the Axalta team to pit for four fresh tires and make a strategy play to run as long as possible in hopes of catching a fortuitous caution that would gain much needed track position.

Their gamble paid off as the caution waved at Lap 187 just before Earnhardt would have had to pit for fuel. Earnhardt entered the pits sixth and restarted the race 11th with only nine laps remaining after several cars opted not to pit. Restarting on the inside lane was not Earnhardt’s friend as he lost four positions in a brief five-lap run before another caution at Lap 196.

Earnhardt restarted 15th for an overtime restart and was able to make up one spot while battling three and four-wide over the final two laps to ultimately finish the race 14th.

Kyle Larson outdueled Martin Truex Jr. on the overtime restart to claim his third victory of the season and third consecutive overall at Michigan. Truex finished second with Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and Trevor Bayne rounding out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway next where Earnhardt will pull double duty competing in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Friday night and the Cup Series event Saturday night.