Auto Racing / Sports

NASCAR notes: Eventful day for Earnhardt

SONOMA, Calif. --Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted his best career finish in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday but also found himself in the center of two accidents. One sent Matt Kenseth to the track's care center. The other ended any chance of a victory for AJ Allmendinger.

Earnhardt, who finished third, was racing side-by-side with Kenseth on Lap75 near Turn7. Earnhardt bounced off a curb and hit the right rear of Kenseth's car, sending it hard into the tire barrier. Kenseth was OK, but his day was done, marking the first time in 15 starts in Sonoma that he didn't finish the race.

"I left him plenty of room," Kenseth said later. "He just plowed into my right rear and wrecked me."

Then in Lap86, Earnhardt was involved in a collision with Allmendinger coming out of Turn11.

Earnhardt had the inside line coming out of the hairpin turn. But the right front of Allmendinger's car collided with Earnhardt's left rear tire, spinning Allmendinger, who was then hit by Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers. Allmendinger continued to race and finished 37th.

"We led a lot of laps today, and we were good enough to win the thing no doubt," said Allmendinger, who led twice for a combined 35 laps, the most of any driver. "It's just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that's tore up."

Earnhardt was upset with himself over the incident with Kenseth but thought he left Allmendinger plenty of room before they got tangled.

"I don't know how bad it was for him, but I had just got around him and we got down into that corner and I ran low protecting my line, he shot to the outside and that's his prerogative," Earnhardt said of Allmendinger. "But I thought I gave him enough room. I didn't think I ran him in the fence."

Earnhardt said his two victories earlier this season, which locked him into the Chase for the Cup, allowed him to take a few more chances.

"Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," said Earnhardt, whose best result at Sonoma before Sunday was 11th. "We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I've been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we've just never been able to finish."

Earnhardt remained in third place in the Sprint Cup standings with 555 points, 25 points back of leader Jeff Gordon and five points behind Jimmie Johnson, both teammates of Earnhardt's at Hendrick Motorsports.

Allmendinger fell from 21st in the standings to 23rd and probably will need a win over the next nine races to secure a spot in the Chase.

--Pole winner Jamie McMurray was passed by Earnhardt with five laps to go and had to settle for fourth. Still, McMurray led nine laps, and his result Sunday was his best in Sonoma since he finished second in 2004.

"I'm happy that I'm mad that I finished fourth, if that makes any sense," McMurray said.

McMurray spent much of the last 25 laps trying to chase down race winner Carl Edwards, waiting for a mistake that never happened. McMurray fell from second to fourth in the last 10 laps, with Gordon also moving up.

Of being caught by Earnhardt, McMurray said, "I didn't really put up a fight because I knew that he was going to get by."

--It was a rough day for Joe Gibbs Racing, as Kyle Busch was the team's top finisher at 25th. Denny Hamlin was 26th and Kenseth, after his accident, was 42nd.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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