Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 11th-place finish in today’s Cheez-it 355 at Watkins Glen International enabled him to take over the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship lead.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon entered this weekend’s race with a 17-point lead over Earnhardt. But after leading the first 29 laps of today’s 90-lapper, Gordon suffered a loss of power on his car at Lap 50.
Gordon was pushed to his pit box and after his crew made repairs, he was able to return to the track and eventually finished in 34th.
With that, Earnhardt leaves the Glen with a five-point lead over Gordon with four regular season races left.
Earnhardt cycled up to second behind HMS teammate and then-leader Jimmie Johnson by staying out under the Gordon caution.
Following the extended red flag at Lap 57, Earnhardt made a stop for four tires and fuel, which dropped him out of the Top 20. However, after the green flag came back out at Lap 60, he was able to start a late-race move towards the Top 10.
With less than 10 laps to go, Earnhardt finally returned to that bracket of the leaderboard. But two restarts within the final laps ultimately saw him drop back to his final result.
“The strategy bit us there,” Earnhardt said. “We probably should of come. [Crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and I think we probably should have come and got tires there.
“That last stop, a couple of guys on new tires beat us. We had a good fast car, real good speed – just got caught out on that strategy there and didn’t finish in the top five. We had a good enough car to.”
Meanwhile, Gordon said that he didn’t know the exact cause of what caused his car to lose power.
“It looks like we had a battery go dead, two batteries go dead,” Gordon said. “I didn’t see anything on the volts meter that stood out or anything really going on there that was alarming.”
However, Gordon was glad that such a problem occurred now than later on when it counts.
“…I would rather these things happen now so we can determine what caused it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, because you can’t have those kinds of things happen once this Chase starts,” Gordon said.