By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Five weeks out of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Jeffrey Earnhardt didn’t miss a beat. The series veteran earned a top-10 finish in the debut of the Xtreme Concepts, Inc Racing team.
Late race pit strategy in the My Bariatric Solutions 300 left Earnhardt’s No. 81 KUIU / Light Force Toyota Supra on fresh tires. Mired deep in 14th, he had just six laps to move through the field.
Earnhardt made quick work of his competitors, cracking the top-10 at Texas Motor Speedway within a lap. However, restarting so far back left him eighth at the checkered flag.
Prior to the race-altering final caution, Earnhardt had been running 15th. He had been one of a handful of drivers that could make the distance on fuel. Earnhardt’s crew chief, Matthew Lucas brought Earnhardt down pit road a second time under the caution and opted for tires.
“We kept making changes all day that would get the car better and then we’d go a little too much,” Earnhardt explained. “We were just trying to find that happy medium and see where exactly the car wanted to be. We just got a little too free on that last restart. I feel like we probably could have got a couple more spots if we were a little bit tighter.”
Throughout much of the race, Earnhardt hovered between 10th and 15th on the running order. He finished the first two stages in 13th and 15th respectively after rolling from the 14th starting spot.
Earnhardt’s weekend almost started with disaster. In practice, his Toyota Supra broke loose in turn two. The 29-year-old driver masterfully kept his car off of the outside wall. Earnhardt then had to wait out a rain-delayed qualifying session, his new team having no owner points to fall back on.
The eighth-place finish is the second top-10 finish in back-to-back starts for Earnhardt, and the first for Extreme Concepts as a race team. His previous top-10 came with Joe Gibbs Racing in the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“A heck of a job by these guys,” Earnhardt admitted. “They busted their butts just to get this car here, and then to come out here with a top 10 is real exciting for all of these guys with Xtreme Concepts and iK9. Obviously, Kyle (Busch) is sitting in victory lane so it’s a win-win for all of us.
“We’re going to keep getting better. Keep making the program better, and this is the first race working with all of these guys. Coming in, knocking a little rust off from setting out for a few months, I can’t say it wasn’t too bad of a run.”
Despite the partial schedule, Earnhardt currently has an average finish of 9.7. With half the starts of his competitors, he sits 16th in the championship standings.