SONOMA, Calif. — In what likely will be his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a busy afternoon in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
At the end of 110 hard laps around the 1.99-mile Sonoma road course, Earnhardt wound up in sixth place. But how he got there was a real adventure.
Earnhardt, who started 10th in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, picked up two positions on the opening lap to move to eighth. By Lap 6, Earnhardt had gained two more spots and was up to sixth, falling back a spot on Lap 9 when Kevin Harvick passed him.
But then disaster on Lap 15.
As he attempted to pass Danica Patrick for sixth place heading into Turn 11, Earnhardt spun inside of her to bring out the first caution. Earnhardt had damage on his car, but he was able to stay in the race.
Earnhardt rejoined the race back in 36th place in the 38-car field.
After pit stops were completed at the end of Stage 1, Earnhardt restarted in 24th place, not good, but better than where he was after the spin.
Earnhardt then got involved in a second crash with Kyle Larson, Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 31 in Turn 4, but the No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet emerged unscathed, with Earnhardt 15th on Lap 36.
But by Lap 50, when Stage 2 ended, Earnhardt was all the way back up to sixth. Under caution, Earnhardt stayed out and when the green flag flew to start the third and final stage, he was second.
On Lap 60, Kyle Busch passed Earnhardt for second place behind leader Denny Hamlin. Earnhardt started to fall back, dropping to sixth on Lap 62.
Earnhardt pitted for fresh rubber on Lap 67, attempting to stop his free fall in the race. And after sacrificing some positions by pitting, Earnhardt was back inside the top 10 by Lap 80.
With 15 laps to go, Earnhardt pitted from sixth place and at Lap 100, he was 13th. But he clawed his was back to sixth to post an excellent finish.