Earnhardt, Smith Net Top-10 Finishes at Kentucky

JR Motorsports | 7/11/2015

Chase Elliott Dale Earnhardt Jr. Great Clips Hellmanns Kentucky NAPA News Race Report Regan Smith XFINITY Series

After a rainy afternoon, JR Motorsports drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Regan Smith produced top-10 finishes under the lights Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Race 16 of 33: Kentucky 300 at Kentucky Speedway

Track Specs: 1.5-mile oval / 200 laps

Weather: Mostly clear; 68 deg.

Race Winner: Brad Keselowski

Earnhardt Jr.’s finish: 8th

Smith’s finish: 10th

Elliott’s finish: 13th

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Despite having little practice because of inclement weather, Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled his way to a top-10 finish in the 15th annual Kentucky 300 on Friday night in his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series start on the 1.5-mile oval. Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 88 Hellmann’s Chevrolet to eighth place, leading the three-car JR Motorsports contingent to the finish line.

Weather was a factor for much of the weekend and Friday’s qualifying session was rained out, so the field was set based on speeds from the lone one-hour practice session on Thursday. Earnhardt Jr. started 16th, but worked his way up to 11th before the competition caution on lap 25. He reported that the Hellmann’s Chevy was a little tight in the center of the corner. Crew chief Dave Elenz called for a track-bar adjustment on the pit stop to correct the issue. Unfortunately, the track started trending loose as the temperature dropped and Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet quickly became too free, particularly on corner entry.

When a caution occurred on lap 71, Elenz called for four tires and went the opposite direction with the track-bar adjustment to help tighten up the No. 88 Chevy. Earnhardt Jr. restarted ninth and gained ground, working his way to sixth by lap 85, but was still reporting that his Hellmann’s Chevrolet was too loose. The handling continued to deteriorate, so much so that the veteran driver reported that he was “wrecking loose.”

The trend continued throughout the rest of the night and though the team continued to work on the car to tighten it up, they were never able to make much of an improvement during the following two stops. Earnhardt Jr. kept the Hellmann’s Chevy mostly inside the top 10 throughout the final half of the race, but was unable to gain much ground, ultimately finishing in the eighth position.

The top-10 effort helped the No. 88 team maintain its position in the top five of the NXS owners’ standings, trailing the current standings leader, Penske’s No. 22 team, by 73 points.

Brad Keselowski earned his first NXS victory of 2015, with Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler rounding out the top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver No. 88 Hellmann’s team

“I know the guys on this Hellmann’s team have worked hard all weekend to try to get the car better. We were too loose for most of the race and never quite had the support I was looking for on the right front. We’ve got some work to do to run better overall as a company. It cycles in this series - we were top dog there for a while and now it seems like some of the other guys have rebounded. We just have to work in the shop and do everything we can to get these cars better. We had good pit stops tonight and the guys stayed after it, so I appreciate the work they put in.”

Regan Smith

Despite the rain that plagued Kentucky Speedway most of the week, a little sunshine peeked through for the start of the Kentucky 300 for NASCAR XFINITY Series machines on Friday. Regan Smith drove his Great Clips Chevrolet Camaro to a top-10 finish in the 200-lap event and gained points on the leader, despite losing a position in the standings.

With one of two practice sessions rained out on Thursday and qualifying canceled earlier Friday, Smith fired off from 13th spot on the initial green flag. With the limited amount of track time, Smith and his Great Clips team had to figure out what they had before moving ahead. Smith spent the first 25 laps sorting out his car, and ran in the top 15 or better until he stopped for four tires and adjustments under a competition caution.

The car was tight most of the night, but a persistent loose condition worked its way into the equation as the runs went on. When it was time to come down pit road for another stop, under yellow on lap 70, the car was loose on entry, tight in the middle and getting looser off the corners. That’s the classic paradox that no team or driver wants to find themselves in.

Another four-tire stop adjusted wedge and air pressure, and Smith went back out in 12th place. Over the next 120 laps, Smith would run as high as seventh and as low as 13th, but could never get the handle to make a serious move through the top 10. The pit crew reeled off an impressive 11.8-second stop to gain some track position, but the lack of clean air and the tight/loose situation made it hard for Smith to be consistently in charge mode.

That blazing pit stop came on lap 163 and Smith returned to the track in eighth place, only to lose two spots over the next 10 laps to sit 10th. That’s where he finished, earning his 10th top-10 finish in 16 races this season and first since Dover, four races ago. It was also his second straight top-10 at Kentucky, following a fifth-place run last fall.

Smith’s finish cost him fourth place in series points, by a single marker, but he gained a point on leader Chris Buescher, who finished behind Smith in 11th.  

Brad Keselowski won the race, followed by Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, rookie Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler. Paul Menard headed the second five, followed by Darrell Wallace Jr., JRM team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brendan Gaughan and Smith. JRM teammate Chase Elliott finished 13th, the first car one lap down.

Regan Smith, driver No. 7 Great Clips team

“With the lack of track time here this weekend, we were kind of behind the eight-ball on what we needed, and we never could get the car to be consistent at both ends of the track. We were in clean air a few times, but it wasn’t enough to get back all we lost in the shuffle, and we just weren’t consistent enough long enough to whittle down any of the spots we needed. We hung in there and adjusted, but as the track got freer, we were always just a bit outside the ideal adjustment. Still, it was a top-10 finish, and we needed that one, so we’ll take it and go on to New Hampshire.”

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, finished 13th in Friday night’s Kentucky 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) race at Kentucky Speedway.  Elliott lost two markers to championship points leader Chris Buescher, but remains in sole possession of second place, just 36 points out in the championship column.  Brad Keselowski led three times for 72 laps on his way to capturing his 33rd career XFINITY Series victory and first of the season.

Qualifying was canceled earlier in the day for rain, so Elliott lined up in the 14th position to start the race.  His starting position was a result of his final practice position on Thursday, which was also cut short due to rain.  During the race’s first 15 laps, Elliott was able to fend off teammate Regan Smith for the 13th position, as the two JR Motorsports’ drivers dueled early. 

Early consensus from the 19-year-old Dawsonville, Ga. native was his NAPA Chevrolet’s front end seemed to be unsettled as he crossed over the rough start/finish line of Kentucky Speedway.  Elliott relayed to crew chief Ernie Cope his NAPA machine was on the verge of being a little too free, but his balance was starting to dial in – so they needed to be mindful under the ensuing lap-25 competition caution to not disrupt the handling of the race car.  Cope changed four tires, added fuel and made a slight chassis adjustment during a quick pit stop, setting the tone for the team on pit road during the night.  The NAPA crew continued their pit-road dominance as they picked up four spots during a lap-74 stop under caution.  Unfortunately for Elliott, on the two following restarts, his NAPA machine failed to fire off effectively, which shuffled him back in the pack on both the lap-78 and -85 restarts. 

As the race continued to wind towards the end, Elliott’s luck continued to fade.  With 41 laps to go, leader Kyle Busch passed Elliott to put him one lap down all before the No. 25 of John Wes Townley hit the wall to bring out another caution on lap 163.  In the process, the driver of the No. 9 Camaro ran over a piece of debris from the No. 25 car which cut down his left rear tire, forcing him to pit road.

On the race’s final restart with 31 laps to go, Elliott lined up exactly where he start the night, 14th, clawing his way to a hard-fought 13th place finish – just one caution away from receiving the lucky dog and putting him back on the lead lap.

Keselowski bested Erik Jones, Busch, Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler for the win.  

Chase Elliott, driver No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS team

“I didn’t think we were bad tonight, we just struggled on restarts getting the NAPA Chevrolet to go.  It didn’t help that we were unable to qualify because of rain and had to start 14th.  Our track position was never that great tonight.  It was a bummer we didn’t catch a caution once we put ourselves in position to get back on the lead lap, but that’s just how racing goes sometimes.  We have to move on from this race, but knowing when we come back in September we have work to do.  My focus in on New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend and we have to be ready to get the job done.”

 

 

No. 88 Hellmann’s

Chevrolet Camaro

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Start

16th

Finish

8th

Laps Completed (Led)

200 of 200 (0)

Points (Bonus)

37 (0)

Standings (from leader)

5th (-73)

Status

Running

 

 

 

No. 7 Great Clips

Chevrolet Camaro

Regan Smith 

Start

13th

Finish

10th  

Laps Completed (Led)

200 of 200 (0)

Points (Bonus)

34 (0)

Standings (from leader)

5th (-66)

Status

Running

 

 

No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS

Chevrolet Camaro

Chase Elliott

Start

14th

Finish

13th

Laps Completed (Led)

199 of 200 (0)

Points (Bonus)

31 (0)

Standings (from leader)

2nd (-36)

Status

Running 

 

Articles

image

XFINITY Series Schedule

  • May 23 01:00 PM ET
    Alsco 300 at CharlotteCharlotte Motor Speedway
  • May 30 01:00 PM ET
    Mid-Ohio 170Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • June 6 01:30 PM ET
    LTi Printing 250Michigan International Speedway
  • June 13 08:30 PM ET
    Iowa 250Iowa Speedway
  • June 20 04:00 PM ET
    Chicagoland 300Chicagoland Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After LS Tractor 200

Phoenix Raceway | 3/7/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Harrison Burton #1760
2Chase Briscoe173-3
3Austin Cindric155-21
4Brandon Jones148-28
5Ross Chastain146-30
6Noah Gragson143-33
7Ryan Sieg143-33
8Justin Haley140-36
9Justin Allgaier138-38
10Michael Annett119-57