By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
CONCORD, N.C. – The first career top-five finish for Jeffrey Earnhardt will always carry extra meaning.
With Earnhardt’s No. 18 iK9 Toyota Supra carrying the images of the badge and fallen Mooresville Police Department K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon, he overcame the odds. In the closing laps, he avoided several incidents. Earnhardt picked off several positions as he climbed the Alsco 300 running order.
With eventual race winner Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier pulled away. Earnhardt settled into third, where he earned his first career top-five finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at his hometrack, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It was hot,” Earnhardt admitted. “It was a hot, grueling race. It doesn’t help when I’m knocking the wall down, crush panels out of the car. It meant a lot to me, having Officer Sheldon on the car that I wasn’t going to lay down. I wanted to make him proud. Hopefully he’s up there smiling down on us about our run.
“I know that we didn’t win it, but we finished third and I wouldn’t have thought that we had a third-place car at the end of practice on Thursday. I can’t thank the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing and iK9 for allowing us to run this cool paint scheme, and everyone that has come out to support Officer Sheldon and his tragic loss.”
The race wasn’t a breeze for Earnhardt. He bounced off the wall twice before a he spun in turn four on lap 142. Earnhardt earned the free pass on the next caution 16 laps later.
On Thursday, Earnhardt could only muster the 18th and 17th fastest practice speeds. By Saturday, he had qualified ninth.
Officer Sheldon lost his life during a routine traffic stop on May 4. The Town of Mooresville paid tribute to him, coming to a standstill as a parade of well over 200 police vehicles participated in the funeral procession. Mooresville’s downtown was at capacity that day.
“It’s crazy how everyone in the community came out to show support for him and his family. It was very touching. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him. I’ve heard he was an incredible man who loved his job, protecting us, and keeping the Town of Mooresville safe.
“He had a K9 (Ramon) by his side every day that he had gotten from iK9. That dog is affected just as much as any other human, and you can see it. It’s tragic, but hopefully this can pick some spirits up and put everyone in a good mood.”
Earnhardt had to be treated by medical personnel due to the extreme heat throughout the race. He was released from the infield care center shortly after the race.