Dale Earnhardt Jr., crew chief Greg Ives and the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet team advanced to the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by edging out Jamie McMurray over the final 24 laps to finish third in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Following the race, Ives received his fifth MOOG Steering and Suspension “Problem Solver of the Race” award, extending his lead in the battle for $100,000 “Problem Solver of the Year” honors.
Ives won the weekly Problem Solver award – sponsored by Federal-Mogul Motorparts, a division of Federal-Mogul Holdings Corporation – after the 88 car posted a race-best 0.132-second-per-lap improvement in average lap time over the second half of the race while finishing on the lead lap. Earnhardt needed every measure of that improvement to beat out McMurray and the No. 1 Chevrolet, giving him one of the final spots in the second round of the Chase.
“Dale Junior and Jamie put on a great show over the final 60 laps, but Greg and the 88 team ultimately gave their driver a slightly better car for the final restart,” said Tim Nelson, director of motorsports for Federal-Mogul Motorparts. “They faced a lot of challenges out there and had to fight to regain position a couple of times, but Greg did a great job of keeping Dale focused on finding and passing Jamie and earning a top-five finish.”
Earnhardt, who started 12th, had picked up three spots over the first 130 laps when a loose lug nut and a resulting return to pit road cost the team 10 positions. The 88 responded, however, by posting an impressive string of top-five lap times, improving to 15th by Lap 179, 11th by Lap 212 and fifth by Lap 325. But in spite of their steady improvement, the team couldn’t shake McMurray and the 1 car, which simply needed to beat Earnhardt by a single position to advance in the Chase. Their battle came down to a restart on Lap 376, when the 88 car blasted past McMurray and three other drivers. Earnhardt was able to hold off McMurray over the final green-flag run, finishing third to the No. 1 car’s fourth. The race was won by Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Chevrolet.
With seven races remaining, Ives now holds a two-win margin over rookie crew chief Justin Alexander (No. 27 Chevrolet/Paul Menard) in the battle for the $100,000 year-end MOOG Problem Solver of the Year Award. Seven crew chiefs have two wins apiece.