Dale Earnhardt Jr. Surprises With 11th-Place Run At Sonoma

Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew what the number meant as soon as he climbed from the car.

"Eleventh," he said with a smile. "That ties my best finish here. Still not a top 10, but the strategy worked out for us real good."

Through a combination of well-timed pit stops, Lance McGrew got the No. 88 team some good track position and Earnhardt Jr. did the rest.

Even the driver was confused as to how exactly it all worked out, but whatever it was, it was successful.

"I'm lost on what we did," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I have no idea. I think you just kind of do whatever the hell you want the first half of the race, then you sit there and go, 'Alright, I need to make it to the end.'"

McGrew felt the 88 car dropped off in lap times after about 20 laps, so he made sure to time the final pit stop to around 20 laps remaining in the race.

"I just kind of sat there and watched the first half of that race and was like, 'Well, a lot of these guys are taking themselves out of the race,'" Earnhardt Jr. said. "I wasn't really braking hard or running hard. I was playing around with the tires and seeing what saved them and what didn't.

"Just at the end of the race, I was like, 'Alright – if we're going to get something, let's get it.' And a couple holes opened up for us, and I just got lucky and got us up in the top 10 with 15 to go, then just tried to hold it."

It was quite a turnaround for Earnhardt Jr., who last week said he wished for dynamite to blow up the track and on Friday expressed little optimism for a good run.

So did the solid day leave him happy?

"I don't really get that pumped up about it, I just get relief to be able to go home and not be pissed off," he said. "But that's every week. I feel like I can run in the top 10 at the Glen on a good day, but I don't feel like that here yet. Even when the car is handling good in practice, I just don't have the confidence (at Sonoma)."

Perhaps Sunday's race will help. With the result, Earnhardt Jr. moved up to 13th in the standings and is 57 points out of a Chase spot with 10 races remaining before the cutoff.

"It worked out, it was good," he said. "Banged up the car a little bit, but not as bad as some people."

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