Earnhardt Jr. Fifth in Return to Racing at Darlington

JR Motorsports | 8/31/2019

Armour Baby Ruth Dale Earnhardt Jr. Darlington Far Out Toys Hellmann's Justin Allgaier Michael Annett News Noah Gragson Throwback XFINITY Series

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in his return to the No. 8 and the NASCAR Xfinity Series Saturday at Darlington Raceway, one of three top-10 finishes for JRM on Throwback Weekend.

Race 24 of 33: Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway
Track Specs: 1.366-mile oval / 147 laps
Weather: Partly cloudy; 89 degrees
Race Winner: Cole Custer

Earnhardt Jr.'s Finish: 5th
Allgaier's Finish: 8th
Gragson's Finish: 9th
Annett's Finish: 13th

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Racing with a throwback No. 8 Hellmann’s Chevrolet that carried a special paint scheme inspired by his late father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the four-car JRM contingent with a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway.

Making his first NXS start in nearly a year, Earnhardt Jr. wasted little time finding his comfort zone. The Hellmann’s team’s day began with a 14th-place qualifying effort but from the drop of the green flag Earnhardt Jr. began a steady climb forward. When the race’s first caution emerged on lap 13, the No. 8 had cracked the back end of the top 10 and ran top-five lap times. Earnhardt Jr.’s initial feedback was that the car was a “little on the free side”, and he took the ensuing restart in eighth. 

As the field settled into a green-flag run over the next dozen laps, the Hellmann’s entry gradually began losing overall grip. It was a handling condition the team would need to tweak on for the rest of the race, and they’d get an opportunity after Earnhardt Jr. finished Stage One in seventh and brought the car to the attention of the crew for an initial stop.

Restarting in seventh, Stage Two was uneventful for the Hellmann’s team. Earnhardt Jr. maintained a strong running position inside the top 10, commenting the car “needed more right-front grip”. He held on to seventh to end Stage Two.

After a second round of pit stops, the team fired off for the final stage in seventh. Over the final 40 laps, Earnhardt Jr. battled hard for position with several competitors, climbing to sixth as the Hellmann’s entry’s handling began tightening up. The team had the opportunity to utilize one last pit stop under caution on lap 134 to free up the No. 8, and Earnhardt Jr. put the changes to good use over the last 10 laps of green-flag racing to come home with a fifth-place finish.

Cole Custer won the race and was followed to the line by Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver No. 8 Hellmann’s Chevrolet team

“I had a lot fun today. I appreciate all these fans coming out to Darlington. They love this place. I’m proud of Taylor (Moyer, crew chief) and our whole team for bringing a really good car here. We just lacked a little bit of front grip. We got it turning better but slid the nose a lot. We did alright.

“Thanks to Hellmann’s for letting allowing us do the No. 8 throwback. A shout out to the Negre family who owned this race car back in 1975, and a shout out to my Dad. It was fun one. You just never know how good you are till you come back and try it. This is elite [racing]. These guys are elite. All these guys in this field do this every single week and they are very talented.”

 

Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier drove the Armour Vienna Sausage Camaro to his 16th top-10 finish of the season on Saturday, finishing ninth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway. The 33-year-old driver remains fourth in the NXS point standings with two races remaining until the start of the playoffs.

Rolling off the grid fourth for the 147-lap race, Allgaier relayed to his team early in Stage One that the Armour Vienna Sausage Chevy was free on corner exit. Fighting through the handling condition, he continued to race inside the top five for much of Stage One, taking the green-and-white checkered flag in fifth. Under the stage-ending caution, the team made a stop for four tires, fuel and adjustments to help tighten up the No. 7 Camaro.

Taking the green for Stage Two in sixth on lap 52, the JR Motorsports driver steadily started working his way closer to the front. He was up to third by lap 74 and started to gain on the second position in the final laps of Stage Two. On the final lap, Allgaier made the pass and ended up getting into the wall, but held on to finish the stage in second. During the caution to end Stage Two, Allgaier brought the No. 7 Chevy to pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.

The Illinois native was in fourth when the green flag dropped for the final stage. Brushing the wall while battling for position, it didn’t take him long to report that the No. 7 Camaro was free. He continued to race in the top five until he reported that he had a tire going down. Just as he was about to come to pit road, the caution came out for an incident in Turn 4 on lap 133, giving the team the opportune chance to pit with the rest of the field.

Coming in for fuel and fresh tires, Allgaier restarted in 12th with 10 laps to go and made his way back inside the top 10, taking home a ninth-place finish.

Cole Custer won the race and was followed by Tyler Reddick, with Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and JRM team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top five.

Justin Allgaier, driver No. 7 Armour Vienna Sausage team

“I think I was in the wall more than I ran laps today, unfortunately. I’m just bummed for everybody at JR Motorsports, especially this Armour Vienna Sausage team. To be battling at the front, I thought I had a good shot at it, unfortunately I got the fence a couple of times. Was really, really free. Once we got the damage it just got looser and looser. Hats off to everybody back at the shop. We’ll go to Indy next week and get back after it.”

 

Noah Gragson

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Adventure Force Chevrolet Camaro, clinched a position in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs on Saturday afternoon after earning a ninth-place finish in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway. Gragson becomes just the eighth driver to clinch a spot in the playoffs, joining JR Motorsports teammates Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier, with just two races remaining in the regular season. In addition to qualifying for the playoffs, Gragson has now scored a top-10 finish in 12 of the last 14 NXS races and has earned an average finish of 7.4 during that same timeframe.

Gragson lined up for the 147-lap event from the eighth position and fought for position inside the top 10 throughout the opening 10 laps, despite reporting that he was extremely tight rolling through the corner. Then, during a lap 11 caution, crew chief Dave Elenz opted to bring the driver of the Adventure Force Chevrolet to pit road for a chassis adjustment in the hopes of alleviating the tight-handling condition. As a result of the stop, Gragson returned to the track for the lap 16 restart in 30th. Undeterred by the loss of track position, Gragson pressed forward, taking advantage of a long green-flag run to improve 10 positions by the time the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed to end Stage One on lap 45.

During the stage-ending caution, Elenz brought the Adventure Force Chevrolet back to pit road for four tires and another chassis adjustment after Gragson had reported that he was still tight through the distinct corners of Darlington. After narrowly avoiding a sliding No. 86 coming off of Turn 2 on the opening lap of the second stage, Gragson steadily worked forward, racing back into the top 10 and up to ninth before the tight-handling condition unfortunately returned. This handling condition ultimately shuffled Gragson back to 11th as Stage Two came to a close on lap 90.

Prior to the beginning of the third and final stage, Elenz once again called the Las Vegas native back to pit road for another round of chassis adjustments. Returning to the track following the stop in ninth, the driver of the Adventure Force Chevrolet settled in to the 11th position as a long green flag run developed through the middle of the final stage. The JRM driver maintained his track position inside the top 15 until a lap 132 caution period provided one last opportunity for Gragson to come to pit road for four tires and adjustments. Following a great stop by the Adventure Force crew, Gragson improved four positions to take the ensuing restart in seventh.

In the closing laps, Gragson continued to fight for a top-10 position, battling with teammate Allgaier before taking the checkered flag in the eighth position.

With the result, Gragson becomes the eighth driver to qualify for the 2019 NXS Playoffs with just two races remaining in the regular season. 

Cole Custer scored the victory, with Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and JRM team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Adventure Force team

“We fought hard today with our Adventure Force Chevrolet and I’m happy we were able to come away with another top-10. Dave (Elenz, crew chief) and all the guys on this team worked really hard all weekend and that shows by how we were able to keep getting better throughout the race today. It also feels really good that we are now locked in to the playoffs. That’s been a goal since the season started and now that we are in, we know what the endgame is and I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to have than this group as we get ready for the playoffs to get underway.”

 

Michael Annett

Michael Annett drove the No. 1 Baby Ruth/Pilot Flying J Chevrolet to a 13th-place finish in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on Saturday at Darlington Raceway. The paint scheme was a tribute to the 1992 NASCAR Xfinity Series car driven by NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon.

Annett began the race from 10th position, on the all-important outside line, and was up to eighth at the conclusion of the first lap. He was 10th after 10 laps, but soon reported to crew chief Travis Mack that the car felt like it was hard on the splitter in Turns 1 and 2. It would be a situation that would linger throughout the remainder of the 147-lap event. Over the rest of the 45-lap Stage One, Annett held sway in the top 12 and finished there when the green-checkered flag waved over the field.

On the ensuing pit stop, Mack called for four tires, fuel and packer to both front wheels as well as a wedge adjustment in an effort to get the splitter off the ground in the trouble spot off Turn 2. Rejoining in 14th place, Annett had to scramble to miss the spinning car of Brandon Brown off Turn 2. JRM teammate Noah Gragson, following close behind, made contact with the spinning car which Annett narrowly avoided. Over the remaining laps of Stage Two, Annett ran in the top 13 until lap 76, when he lost a position off Turn 2. Annett reported that the bumps were still there and that the nose got away from him when he hit them. He finished Stage Two in 14th place, and came to Mack’s attention on pit road in hopes of finding improvement.

Annett received four new tires plus an air-pressure adjustment to hopefully alleviate the Turn 2 troubles. Firing off from 13th position, Annett lost a spot on the green flag and ran 14th until lap 101, when he passed Justin Haley for 13th. Ten laps later, he was 12th after switching to the high line around Darlington’s legendary banking. That set up a battle with Gragson, which raged for 10 laps before Gragson finally got by. Annett was still 12th when the caution flag waved for a crash off Turn 4 on lap 133, and Mack called him back down pit road for another round of adjustments. Four more tires went on the No. 1 Baby Ruth throwback, along with fuel, air-pressure and chassis adjustments for the final 10-lap run to the checkered flag.

Restarting 13th again, on the inside line, Annett lost a spot on the green flag to Jeremy Clements, who started directly to his right. Annett crossed the finish line in 14th at the checkered. Following the disqualification of race winner Denny Hamlin following the race, Annett was credited with a 13th-place finish on the day.

Hamlin’s disqualification gave the race win to Cole Custer, with Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and JRM’s Dale Earnhardt Jr.—in his first start since the second race at Richmond Raceway in 2018--the rest of the top five. Chase Briscoe, Brandon Jones, Gragson, JRM’s Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.

Michael Annett, driver No. 1 Baby Ruth/Pilot Flying J team

“I just could not get off Turn 2 all day long. We had a good-looking Baby Ruth Chevrolet here today, but the bumps in Turn 2 were a problem for me all day long. The No. 1 Chevrolet handled well everywhere else, but the bumps were so bad for me that I thought I was on the splitter during the first stint. We’ll take a breath and go on to Indianapolis next week.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • September 28 03:30 PM ET
    Drive for the Cure 250Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
  • October 5 03:00 PM ET
    Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200Dover International Speedway
  • October 19 03:00 PM ET
    Kansas Lottery 300Kansas Speedway
  • November 2 08:30 PM ET
    O'Reilly Auto Parts 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • November 9 03:30 PM ET
    Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200ISM Raceway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Go Bowling 250

Richmond Raceway | 9/20/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Christopher Bell (P)21150
2Cole Custer (P)2093-22
3Tyler Reddick (P)2071-44
4Austin Cindric (P)2067-48
5Justin Allgaier (P)2054-61
6Michael Annett (P)2051-64
7Chase Briscoe # (P)2050-65
8Noah Gragson # (P)2048-67