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 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to double up in FP2 after topping first practice on Friday morning.
Sep 4, 2015, 5:31 AM EDT
Hamilton finishes half a second clear of Rosberg to top FP1 on Friday.
Sep 4, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT
The Italian GP weekend kicks off with FP1 at 4am ET on Friday.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Here’s all the information you need to know about this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis:
Sep 3, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT
The biggest and most important drag race of the season takes place this weekend with the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.
Sep 3, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
The GP3/16 breaks cover at Monza ahead of its introduction next year.
Sep 3, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Mercedes goes all-in ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, fully upgrading the power units on both of its cars.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
FOM comes out in support of “first class partner” Pirelli.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Silly season has been a let down in 2015. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that McLaren is now the team to watch in the driver market.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
Hamilton goes blonde for Monza. He’s not alone in F1 annals.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Perez expects to confirm his plans for 2016 in the next two weeks.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Debris, not structural problems, to blame for tire failures at Spa.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno make their picks ahead of this weekend’s race at Monza.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The European season comes to a close at Monza this weekend. Can Lewis Hamilton enter the final run of flyaways with an even bigger lead?
Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
James Hinchcliffe a few weeks away from his driving return.
Sep 3, 2015, 5:38 AM EDT
Williams confirms an unchanged line-up for 2016, keeping Bottas and Massa together for a third season.
Sep 2, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
The TV times for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Sep 2, 2015, 4:33 PM EDT
$2,500 fine levied against No. 22 team for pit road infraction.
Sep 2, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Jann Mardenborough steps up from GP3 into GP2 this weekend.
Sep 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Hinchcliffe recalls racing, commentating on Justin Wilson.
- WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the Italian Grand Prix on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET 0
- Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in Italian GP FP1 0
- NHRA: All you need to know about the 61st U.S. Nationals 0
- NHRA: Year’s biggest race, the U.S. Nationals, ready to roll 2
- F1 2015’s silly season is proving to be a let down, but who could yet spice it up? 3
- 2015 Italian Grand Prix Preview 0
- James Hinchcliffe on the comeback trail for IndyCar driving return 2