AVONDALE, Ariz. – As Sunday night’s race at Phoenix International Raceway passed the midway point, the weather moved to the forefront of teams’ attention.
“That rain started to pop up again and we're on two long green flag runs there, and we just saw it coming,” No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives said.
To Ives’ point, one full cycle of green-flag pit stops had come and gone and the field was beginning to tackle another set of green-flag pit stops with rain seemingly imminent on the radar.
“We didn't know if it was going to happen before we pitted or after, but we knew at some point it was going to happen, and we elected to kind of pit, be one of the first few to pit,” Ives explained.
So Earnhardt took the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS down pit road, and just as the crew was finishing the stop, a caution flag waved. That’s when the moment of truth happened – Earnhardt made it to the line before the field got to the start-finish line, leaving the driver of the No. 88 Chevy SS as the leader.
“The qualifying effort really is what put us there, gave us that pit selection and gave us the track position all night,” Earnhardt said of his third-place effort in qualifying.
“The weekend always starts on Friday,” Ives expounded. “This weekend kind of proved that we were able to do it, qualified third, and get a good pit selection that allowed us to get an advantage that maybe somebody else needed, and we got it.”
With Earnhardt in the lead, the yellow flag eventually transitioned to a red flag, and the race was called, giving him his third win of the season.
“You've got to put yourself in position to win, and when it happens, it's never going to say why we won or how we won, it just says we're first,” Ives said.
Earnhardt said it was a tough pill to swallow that the win would have advanced him to the championship race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup if it weren’t for a narrow second-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in the previous round.
Nevertheless, it was a win he and the No. 88 team were proud to accept.
“When something like this quirky happens we were able to capitalize. It’s a rain-shortened win, but my guys are very proud of it because of how the car ran all weekend and we put ourselves in this position,” Earnhardt said. “We will take this win -- it has been a long year and we put a lot of effort into it and we are starting to see some things turn around and work for us like we want. We were fast all weekend, so real proud of this.”