By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a strong weekend all the way around in Sonoma. He was fast in both practice sessions, and he qualified a respectable 13th for Sunday’s race. In the early stages of the race, Earnhardt worked his way up into the top-five where he would stay for a good portion of the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Earnhardt looked poised to cruise to his third-consecutive top-10 finish at Sonoma Raceway. However Earnhardt got shuffled back late in the event, after a sluggish pit stop mired him in the back half of the top-10.
After a restart with 14 laps to go, Earnhardt looked to be making his move toward the front, until Carl Edwards swerved on the exit of turn six to avoid Joey Logano, who over-shot the corner. As Edwards turned sharp right to avoid contact, Earnhardt he had just worked to the inside of Edwards.
Edwards and Earnhardt made contact which caused the front left of Earnhardt’s car to become air born. Earnhardt would save the car, but there was a huge tire rub. Earnhardt would nurse his car home over the final 14 circuits to an 11th-place finish, just missing out on his third-straight top-10 at the California road course.
After the race, Edwards thanked Earnhardt for not making their incident worse.
“I appreciate Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. giving me the space there – Joey (Logano) got loose, I got under him and Dale was three-wide,” Edwards said. “We had a really fast Stanley Toyota, this was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, really good car.”
With Sonoma in the books, Earnhardt has now recorded just one top-10 finish (a second-place effort at Pocono) over his last eight starts, and his season has begun to free-fall.
If Tony Stewart, who won Sunday, can work his way to the top-30 in the championship standings, it will knock Earnhardt to 13th in the Chase Grid standings. With 10 races left to the Chase, Earnhardt — winless in 2016 — could be in some serious trouble as far as making the Chase if he has any more subpar finishes.