Earlier in the week, Jeffrey Earnhardt said in an interview with TobyChristie.com that he and Richard Childress Racing intended for his No. 3 car to be the fastest car in the NASCAR Xfinity Series field this weekend at Talladega. They intended to sit on the pole. And they intended to park the No. 3 back in victory lane.
Two out of three ain’t bad, and Earnhardt was extremely close to pulling off the trifecta as he scored his career-best second-place finish after a frantic finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.
“These races at the end get crazy,” Earnhardt said after the race. “I knew on that last restart that we had a shot. I just didn’t know how it was going to play out. At the end there, everybody just spreads out trying to pass whoever they can. And that typically plays out pretty good for the guys just a little further back. As long as you have somebody glued to your bumper to push you through and weave through the all the mess.”
For the 32-year old, it hasn’t been an easy path to a top-tier ride. In fact, had you told someone a couple of seasons ago — hell, even last year — that he would be driving a No. 3 RCR car to a runner-up finish, they would have reserved you a place at a mental rehabilitation center.
However, as many wrote him off, and plenty did, the grandson of the legendary Dale Earnhardt took the long, hard road to a seat at RCR. For Earnhardt, after all the struggles along the way, it was well worth it for this incredible performance.
“It’s a no quit attitude, man,” Earnhardt stated. “Me and my team, sponsors, none of us are willing to give up. We may get knocked down, but we aren’t going anywhere. I don’t plan on getting out of this sport for a long time.”
Earnhardt continued by saying, “We always joke we’re going to have one heck of a book to write. Let me tell you, it’s going to be a really good book.”
Not only is Earnhardt’s path to the ride in the No. 3 car an incredible story, but Earnhardt could possibly reach the New York Times Best Sellers list by simply retelling how he scored his second-place finish on Saturday.
Earnhardt started from the pole, and looked like he would have a solid shot at taking the Stage 1 win. However, nearing the end of the opening Stage, Earnhardt got shuffled out from his Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed.
“Austin was doing a good job working both lanes, but I just tried to maintain and stay out front there,” Earnhardt explained. “We ended up getting shuffled back. It took us a while, once we got back there. We would make a run to the front, and I would try something to just get a little further.”
Earnhardt went from the pole position to flirting with running outside the top-20 for a portion of the race. But just as he did on his path to getting this one-race opportunity with RCR, Earnhardt did not give up. He didn’t panic. And in the end, he found himself with an opportunity to make something happen.
“Somehow, we ended up right back up there in the mix at the end,” Earnhardt recalled. “That’s when I knew, alright, this is what we said we needed to do. Be in the top-10, when it comes down to five to go, even 10 to go. Like I said, I knew I had a shot, I just didn’t know how we would get there. But everything gets so crazy on that last lap.”
So, where does Earnhardt go from here? He has four more starts planned with Sam Hunt Racing in the No. 26 Toyota Supra, but could this runner-up finish lead to more opportunities with Richard Childress Racing?
“I’m hoping this is a springboard to more to come. If it’s not, then I’m forever thankful,” Earnhardt said. “This has been an incredible opportunity. I want to be in a top car, competing for a championship. I know I’m capable if given the opportunity.”
When Earnhardt was announced as the driver of the No. 3 RCR car for Talladega Superspeedway, and then Larry McReynolds was subsequently announced as the crew chief for the effort and to cap things off, Mike Dillon was named the spotter for Earnhardt, people on social media clamored that this was an elaborate publicity stunt.
After a second-place finish on Saturday, it was Earnhardt who got the last laugh on his haters. However, Earnhardt acknowledges that he enjoys his haters as they help heap even more motivation on his shoulders.
“Yeah, it can be a publicity stunt all they want to say. At the end of the day, there’s no publicity stunt that’s going to put you where you end up at the end of these races,” Earnhardt stated with emphasis. “So much crazy stuff can happen. You’ll always have haters. I kind of enjoy it. It fuels the fire. They can keep hating all they want, but we know why we’re here. We know what gave us this opportunity. We know what we did when we showed up today and that’s race our guts out to try to get a win. And that’s a true testament to all of these guys, the sponsors, RCR, my team, everybody.”
Could this lead to more? Possibly. Could this be Earnhardt’s last opportunity in a good ride? That’s possible too. We won’t know for sure on that until the future. But it’s all a moot point as, for one Saturday afternoon in Alabama, Jeffrey Earnhardt showcased what he is truly capable of if given a solid car underneath him.