Jeffrey Earnhardt Finishes 24th in NNS Debut at Watkins Glen International In his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut, Jeffrey Earnhardt, the fourth-generation driver from the legendary Earnhardt family, brought home a solid 24th place finish at...
Jeffrey Earnhardt Finishes 24th in NNS Debut at Watkins Glen International
In his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut, Jeffrey Earnhardt, the fourth-generation driver from the legendary Earnhardt family, brought home a solid 24th place finish at Saturday's race at Watkins Glen International. After a slow start to the weekend, the Key Motorsports team gave Earnhardt a competitive road course car, nearly finishing in the top-20 if not for a last lap spin by a competitor.
With a brand new driver and a brand new road course car, it took time for the Key Motorsports team to get into the swing of things at Watkins Glen International. After posting times outside the top-35 in both practices and qualifying, the team was certain that rookie Jeffrey Earnhardt and the FABGrills.com Chevy would show their true potential after the green flag waved for the Zippo 200 at The Glen.
Starting 36th, Earnhardt was confident that the No. 40 Chevrolet would get faster with every lap, which he quickly proved to be correct. By lap 13 of the 82-lap race, Earnhardt maneuvered his way past the top-30 and never looked back, working his way up to 23rd before the leaders started pitting on lap 17.
Employing a different fuel strategy than many of his competitors, crew chief Gary Showalter chose to take advantage of track position, allowing Earnhardt to wheel the No. 40 up to 10th place by lap 21. When Earnhardt brought the Key Motorsports machine to pit road under yellow on lap 35, he was satisfied with the handling of the car. The Key crew gave him four tires and fuel, sending him back onto the track in 26th place without any adjustments.
When the caution flag waved again less than ten laps later, Showalter called Earnhardt onto pit road for tires and fuel once again, this time electing to adjust on the FABGrills.com Chevy to loosen it up. Returning to the track, Earnhardt took the green flag in 28th, gaining another position by the time the field was shown the yellow again on lap 52.
Now within their fuel mileage window, the team pitted for the final time, taking fuel and making another track bar adjustment to counteract the car's tight condition. Restarting 29th and prepared to stay on track for the remainder of the race, Earnhardt once again began to improve with every lap, navigating the No. 40 up to 23rd with ten laps to go.
By the final lap, Earnhardt was running 20th and fighting hard for the 19th position, clearly on his way to a top-20 finish. Unfortunately, in the final turns of the race, the No. 34 attempted an over-aggressive pass on Earnhardt, hitting his rear quarter panel and sending the two vehicles spinning. Though the No. 34 headed straight into the wall and received serious damage, Earnhardt was able to right his car and get back on the throttle, losing only 4 positions in the scuffle. Crossing the finish line 24th, both team and driver were pleased by the solid showing.
"We had a little bit of trouble with the handling and the brakes at the start of the weekend, but we worked on the car and kept tuning on it," said Earnhardt. "All these guys kept working real hard throughout the race to get the car a lot better. I'm so proud of the team, they did a great job and we just got turned there on the last lap. It's just one of those racing things...it's the last lap and everyone's going for whatever spot they can get. At least we brought the car home in one piece. I hate that we couldn't have gotten the 19th place finish, but I guess 24th isn't bad. We'll take that car and go to Montreal and do even better."
Curtis Key's No. 40 remains 23rd in the NNS owner standings after Jeffrey Earnhardt's debut at The Glen. The Key Motorsports Chevrolet is now 273 points ahead of 30th place.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to ovals this Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Scott Wimmer will resume his role as driver of the No. 40 Chevrolet in this weekend's CARFAX 250.