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AVONDALE, Ariz. – By the end of last Sunday night at Phoenix International Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in Victory Lane.

Unfortunately, the win wasn’t accompanied by a berth in the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“If I had four or six inches at Talladega we would be going there to Homestead to race for a championship, too. It works out for some and some it doesn’t,” 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.”

Earnhardt referenced the final race of the Contender Round of the Chase at Talladega Superspeedway, when the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS was scored second when a caution flag ended the race just as the green-white-checkered attempt was getting underway.

“We did everything we needed to do, just fell a little short -- about the width of the splitter,” he said at the time.

The second-place result knocked Earnhardt out of the Chase, but he didn’t stop battling. The driver’s worst finish in the ensuing Eliminator Round of the postseason was sixth, and his win at Phoenix left him proud of what the No. 88 team has been able to accomplish.

“This is a numbers and inches game -- it didn't add up for us,” he said. “But I will tell you that I'm happier at this particular point in this Chase because in the Chases beforehand we really just didn't live up to our potential. We just struggled and flat out didn't run good enough. But in this particular Chase, we've been close. We're close, man.

“This is my first year with (No. 88 team crew chief) Greg (Ives), and I really think that we've got a lot to improve on. And we will, and we'll get even better.”