Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed the way for JR Motorsports with a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Sporting the Great Clips colors on the No. 88 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Jr. was a strong contender from the very beginning. After keeping sight of the leaders, the 88 team leveraged a two-tire pit stop to take the lead and pace the field for two laps, making Earnhardt Jr. one of only four leaders during the race. The team briefly slipped back to ninth before a tight condition dropped them even further to 13th. Over the course of the next pair of pit stops crew chief Steve Letarte made calls to help improve the handling on the Great Clips Chevrolet. Earnhardt Jr. used the adjustments to muscle back inside the top-10 by lap 121. The team fluctuated through several positions over the final 79 laps, but found themselves in seventh for the final restart. Earnhardt Jr. made a three-wide pass to climb to fifth and earned his third top-five finish in only four starts this season.
Regan Smith and the No. 7 Clean Coal team faced a race of adversity, and nearly overcame it, until a late-race spin after contact from the 31 car relegated them to a 13th-place finish. Early on, Smith patiently settled in and found a position among the top 10 by lap 35. When the 7 team attempted to hit pit road for a scheduled green-flag stop on lap 81, their pit box was blocked by a stalled competitor. As a result, Smith stayed on the track and the extra lap exhausted the car of fuel. Smith then coasted to pit lane, but not before giving up several positions. When he emerged back on the track, Smith was in 17th and down a lap. The team kept its poise and Smith earned the lap back under caution by way of a wave around. Once back to green-flag racing the 7 began a steady climb to the top 10, which was rooted in stellar restarts by Smith. On lap 183 and with Smith vying for the eighth position, the 31 of Justin Allgaier made contact with the outside wall off of turn two and shot directly into the side of the 7 car. The abrupt contact sent Smith spinning to the inside of the track. With minimal damage, the team hit pit road to change tires and Smith restarted in 18th. He managed to break back inside the top-15 and found the 13th position prior to the checkered flag.
A day of great promise turned to disappointment for Brad Sweet and the No. 5 CorvetteParts.net team. Sweet was on pace for a top-five qualifying run when his car bottomed out severely dropping him to a 12th-place starting position. From the drop of the green flag, Sweet worked his way to as high as eighth early on. A four-tire change under the first caution gave Sweet fresh sticker tires that altered the car’s handling drastically, shifting the balance from slightly tight to wrecking loose on the race’s second stint. Sweet dropped to 16th and was a lap down by the race’s second caution at lap 107. Crew chief Mike Bumgarner elected to bring Sweet to pit road under the caution to make adjustments to improve the car’s handling instead of taking the risky wave around option that would have put the No. 5 back on the lead lap. Sweet could never recover his lost lap and dropped another lap down on an unfortunate caution flag during a cycle of green-flag pit stops at lap 158. By race’s end, Sweet found himself 20th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver No. 88 Great Clips team
“That was a good learning experience for us for tomorrow. It didn’t really pay off the way we had hoped. The last half of the race was good for us. The Great Clips Chevrolet had great speed and we were able to crawl back up there and pass some guys. We had a lot of fun. The car had been real quick all weekend and I’m proud of my team.”
Regan Smith, driver No. 7 Clean Coal team
“Man, it was just a frustrating day for our Clean Coal team. We struggled from the beginning, but Greg and the guys kept after the car with adjustments on pit road. At times it was better, and sometimes it wasn’t. The car was pretty inconsistent for most of the day, which can really create problems. Still we were in position to land another top 10 but the 31 got into us and that pretty much ended our chances. The guys worked hard all weekend and we’ll move onto Kentucky and get things back on track there.”
Brad Sweet, driver No. 5 CorvetteParts.net team
“I’m pretty disappointed with how our day ended up. We started off really strong then put on that first set of stickers (tires) and the car went way loose. That really threw off the rest of our day when we got a lap down. In hindsight, we probably should have taken the wave around but we tried to make our car better and race for the Lucky Dog there. Despite where we finished, we know how strong our car was and that’s a positive we can take out of here.”
-JR Motorsports PR