No more Mr. Nice Guy: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets aggressive and ends up with career-best finish at Sonoma
Jun 22, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
You almost have to wonder if Dale Earnhardt Jr. listened to Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” prior to Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway — and took the lyrics to heart.
Earnhardt came into the race never having finished in the top-10 at Sonoma in 14 prior starts.
But Sunday was a completely different story.
Instead of the passive Junior we’ve seen in past races at Sonoma, he got up on the wheel, became aggressive – overly aggressive in some instances (just ask Matt Kenseth) – and wound up with a career-best third-place finish at the twisting and turning road course in California’s wine country.
“Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us,” Earnhardt said in the post-race press conference. “We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I’ve been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we’ve just never been able to finish.
“So to be clear of the mess and just have an advantage with the tires at the end, there was a lot of confidence, and knowing we were going to be able to wrap it up or feel like we were in good position to wrap it up and really good. The car was fun to drive all weekend.”
Earnhardt’s aggressiveness and confidence extended to crew chief Steve Letarte.
“Just putting the tires on and getting the strategy right with Steve” was the key to the win, Earnhardt told TNT after the race. “I told him (Letarte) 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.
“Our car was fast all weekend really. I tried to screw it up a couple of times there in the race, but calmed down and was able to get a good finish out of it.”
No more Mr. Nice Guy, indeed.
To that end, Earnhardt got into at least two significant incidents that, while they didn’t hurt him and his car too bad, they pretty much ended the day for two other drivers, including one of his closest friends, Matt Kenseth.
Earnhardt and Kenseth were fighting hard on Lap 75, driving side-by-side, when Kenseth pulled slightly ahead going into Turn 7.
Earnhardt hit a curb and his car bounced back to the left, right into the right rear quarter-panel of Kenseth’s car, spinning him out hard and almost head-on into a tire wall.
Kenseth’s car was all but obliterated by the crash, and while he fortunately was uninjured, he also wound up with one of his worst finishes of the season: 42nd out of the 43-car starting field.
Earnhardt took complete blame for the incident.
“I got into Matt,” Earnhardt said. “I jumped that curb and just ran into him. Totally my fault.
“It was just racing a little too hard with him there and I probably should have let him have that spot. Other than that, we had a pretty good day.”
Earnhardt also got into a scrum with AJ Allmendinger 11 laps later, but this time it wasn’t Junior’s fault.
Allmendinger was coming out of Turn 11 and got pinched towards the inside retaining wall. Allmendinger bounced off the rear of Junior’s car in the process, spun and then continued bouncing like a pinball off the trailing cars of Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.
As a result, Allmendinger, who dominated the first half of the 110-lap race by leading 35 laps, finished with a very disappointing 37th-place finish, two laps behind the leaders.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
Sep 17, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Waltrip and partner Emma Slater are moving on to Week 2 despite a shaky opening performance.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Also on tap: Chicagoland edition of “Scan All 43″; learning the best lines around New Hampshire.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
The No. 20 Truck failed to meet post-race body height requirements following Saturday night’s Truck Series event at Chicagoland Speedway.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Needing two more good races to make the Contender Round, knowing when and when not to take a chance on the track will be important for the 4 camp.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Singapore GP and two Red Bull GRC races to watch this weekend, among other items, on NBC TV times.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
RPM also announces that it will stay with Ford, and also continue chassis/engine supply deals with Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Yates Engines respectively.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, under new CFH Racing banner, will run Chevrolets in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:36 PM EDT
Team engineering director Pat Fry says some new components for 2015 will be tested on the current F14 T car during the final stretch of races this year.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
DEWALT and STANLEY join Joe Gibbs Racing, for Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, in 2015.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:56 AM EDT
GP2 adds DRS for 2015.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
NASCAR Whelen Euro Series announces 2015 schedule, which includes another oval.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Lajoie will run his first Cup race at New Hampshire, while Justin Boston will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing at Kentucky and Dover in the Nationwide Series.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Will experience or hunger help him capture his 2nd Sprint Cup title? The NASCAR AMERICA gang debates the topic.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
NBC Sports legal analyst Jack Furlong breaks down what could happen now that a grand jury will decide whether Stewart will face charges for his involvement in the accident that killed sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The nine-turn Port of Los Angeles circuit will feature the longest joker of the 2014 GRC season.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Teams now know what radio messages can and cannot be made heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Also coming up today: What’s more important in winning a Sprint Cup title: Experience or Drive?; rookie phenom Kyle Larson on dealing with the hype; NASCAR pioneer Wendell Scott to be honored next month.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The Russian driver will continue his rehab work in Indy after sustaining multiple injuries in a practice crash on Aug. 29 at Auto Club Speedway.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The three-time NASCAR champion responds that he intends to “continue to provide my full cooperation.”
Sep 16, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
OAK Racing to return to FIA WEC for three of last four races.
Video from NASCAR America
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA with Matt Kenseth and Steve Letarte at 5 p.m. ET 0
- Singapore GP, Red Bull GRC highlight weekend’s NBC motorsports coverage 0
- NASCAR: Richard Petty Motorsports committed to two-car program in 2015 3
- NASCAR: STANLEY, DEWALT join JGR in 2015 3
- NASCAR AMERICA: One Sprint Cup title not enough for Keselowski (VIDEO) 0
- IndyCar’s Mikhail Aleshin released from Indianapolis hospital 0
- DA will submit evidence from Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. case to grand jury 25