Two races, two stellar performances by Jeffrey Earnhardt in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
On Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Earnhardt ran well inside the top 10 throughout the Rinnai 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race, seventh in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2 and second in a late race restart following a caution.
For that restart, Earnhardt’s No. 18 Toyota Supra shared the front row with teammate and eventual winner Christopher Bell. But following a not-so-stellar launch in the non-preferred lane, he was shuffled back to sixth.
Afterward, Earnhardt said his day didn’t feel as good as it looked.
“It sucked, honestly,” he said. “Restarting on the front row, I knew the outside was tough. I blew the tires off it [up there] earlier in the race, and everyone else struggled up there. That’s typical here, but you just hope that maybe you just nail it on the restart, and we didn’t. I was blowing the tires off it, I had Brandon [Jones] pushing me, trying to get me going the best he could, but … it just sucks.
“I was looking forward to maybe winning this thing. I know Christopher [Bell] had a real good car. Brandon had a strong one, too. It was just a good day for all of us at Joe Gibbs Racing, but I was really hoping it was my day to maybe pull out a win and put the iK9 Supra in victory lane.”
Unhappy or no, Earnhardt has shown real improvement in his Xfinity Series form. Last weekend in Daytona, Earnhardt started second, which was not only a career-best qualifying effort but the first time he had ever started inside the top 10.
His 29 laps led later that afternoon were more than Earnhardt had led in his previous 66 starts combined.
In Atlanta, Earnhardt backed up his Daytona performance by starting eighth and, with his sixth-place finish, notching a career-best. His previous best? Two 12ths (Bristol 2014 and Talladega 2015).
When the accomplishment was pointed out, Earnhardt finally offered a smile, admitting that part of the day was good.
“But they’re putting me in winning capable cars, and I want to win in them!” he said. “So, until we start winning, we’re not meeting expectations.”
Earnhardt will be at Texas next month with Xtreme Concepts Racing. His next race with JGR will be Talladega in April.