By Dustin Long
JOLIET, Ill. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost more than his power steering Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Earnhardt's 19th-place finish tightened the race for the last spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Earnhardt remains 12th -- the final transfer spot -- but his lead dwindled to 30 points on Ryan Newman with seven races left before the cutoff.
Newman's eight-place finish helped him gain 31 points on Earnhardt.
"We're knocking on the door," said Newman, who has gained 97 points on Earnhardt in the last two races. "Other guys had some misfortunes and sometimes that's what it takes."
Earnhardt ran in the top 10 until his power steering failed about 60 laps from the finish.
"It won't go where you want it to go," Earnhardt radioed his crew. "I've never driven a car like this. This is funny."
Losing points wasn't.
Earnhardt was unfazed after the race, among jokes from his crew about needing to work out.
"I've been outside the top 12 looking in ... and if we have to go there again, we'll go there again," Earnhardt said. "We'll be all right. We've got a good team. I've got no doubts."
PEACE RESTORED: Car owner Joe Gibbs stopped at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday en route to a vacation in Colorado to moderate a meeting between feuding teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. They met for about half an hour and it caused the drivers to miss the first part of the final practice session.
"I've never really seen Coach (Gibbs) fired up quite the way he was this week," Hamlin said after Sunday's race. "For him to come on Saturday the way he did, I knew it was serious. If we had to miss practice, I knew it was very serious."
Both Stewart and Hamlin said Sunday that the meeting helped restore their working relationship and they helped each other during the race.
Stewart and Hamlin have had a rift since they crashed last weekend at Daytona. Hamlin said he would not talk to Stewart this past week because he wanted to calm down after Stewart criticized Hamlin on national television.
J.D. Gibbs, team president and son of Joe Gibbs, said the matter was resolved between the two drivers. J.D. Gibbs wasn't at the meeting and wouldn't reveal details but said the two drivers had time to air their differences from last week.
UPS AND DOWNS: Less than a week after he won at Daytona to snap a 166-race winless streak, Jamie McMurray crashed and finished 38th Sunday.
McMurray's woes dropped him two spots in the points standings. He fell to 15th and is 111 points behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the final transfer spot.
PIT STOPS: Kurt Busch finished sixth after starting at the rear of the field for an engine change. ... Matt Kenseth's runner-up finish was his third top-10 finish in a row. ... Evernham Motorsports had a forgettable weekend. Scott Riggs failed to make the race. Kasey Kahne placed 32nd, finishing five laps behind the leaders. Elliott Sadler was 33rd, finishing seven laps behind the leaders. ... After winning nine of the first 12 races, Hendrick Motorsports has won once in the last seven races. ... Points leader Jeff Gordon, who finished ninth, said that was as good as his car was all day. ... John Andretti placed 18th in his fourth and final race in place of Kyle Petty, who was a part of TNT's broadcast crew.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
By Dustin Long