TALLADEGA, Ala. — Just like old times, an Earnhardt ran out front at Talladega Superspeedway with Larry McReynolds on the pit box. But, this time, the driver’s name wasn’t Dale. It was Jeffrey — his grandson.
In a one-off for Richard Childress Racing, Jeffrey Earnhardt finished second in Saturday’s Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega with McReynolds, his grandfather’s former crew chief, calling the shots. McReynolds hadn’t served as a crew chief since the end of the 2000 season when he made the move to the FOX television booth.
“I had feelings on the last lap that there must have been an Earnhardt behind the wheel,” McReynolds told reporters after the race. “The apple didn’t roll far from the dad’s tree or the granddad’s tree.”
After starting on the pole for the first time in his career, Earnhardt was shuffled from the leaders early on and finished Stage 1 in 20th place. He worked his way back through the field, finishing Stage 2 in eighth place.
“We came here and sat on the pole, and I’m like ‘someone wake me up, it just can’t be true,'” Earnhardt said.
After several late-race cautions, Earnhardt restarted on the third green-white-checkered from eighth position. Justin Allgaier, who restarted from second, ran out of fuel and allowed Earnhardt to advance three positions in the high lane. The field strung out and Earnhardt took the white flag in fifth place.
In Turn 2, Ryan Sieg and Jeb Burton made contact ahead of him, and Earnhardt passed both. He split the middle between AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst on the backstretch and cleared both exiting Turn 4. But, at that point, it was too late. Noah Gragson had pulled too far away for Earnhardt to catch.
“These races at the end get crazy,” Earnhardt said. “Everyone just spreads out, trying to pass whoever they can. That typically plays out pretty good for the guys just a little further back.
“Once I cleared AJ, I just knew I didn’t have anyone close enough out back to create a run to get to [Gragson’s] back bumper.”
Earnhardt’s second-place finish is the best result of his NASCAR career. His only other top five came in the 2019 spring Xfinity race at Atlanta.
For McReynolds, it was his first time serving as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. Although he has a large television role with FOX, he didn’t rule out a future return to pit road.
“I’m just happy for [Jeffrey],” McReynolds said. “We’ll just wait and see. I got to go back and do my day job tomorrow back in the FOX studio.”