Considering Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced to start Sunday's NASCAR Chase opener in the rear of the field due to an engine change, an eighth-place finish wasn't all that bad.
But Earnhardt Jr. knows rattling off top-10 results aren't going to be enough to become a Sprint Cup Series champion in November, and said he needs to be great – not just good. So in that sense, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said he was "not getting real excited" about his rally from the back at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We need to be in the media center after all these races (where the top three finishers go for interviews) as much as possible," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. "...You can't run eighth every week and win the championship."
Earnhardt Jr. said he was "disappointed" with himself for making a mistake and over-revving the engine after his qualifying lap on Saturday while trying to bump it out of gear. The over-revving resulted in what he described as the valves and the piston having "a little party and they all ended up with a hangover."
Having to start so deep in the field was a difference between a top-five and a top-10, he said. The team was never able to gain everything back and overcome the initial setback, he said, "and I take full responsibility for that."
Despite some adjustments, Earnhardt Jr. said the team made the car "ordinary" and had a "mundane run" in the second half of the race.
"We really didn't have great speed, but we didn't have a terrible car, either," he said. "It was just kind of like wherever you were on the race track is where you ran.
"I'm not that disappointed in the car. It was actually a pretty good car. I just know we need to be great and I really believe we've got a shot at winning the championship – and we've got to be great."
Earnhardt Jr. left Chicago exactly where he started – in seventh place – but is now 17 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski.