Dale Jr . led 31 laps, but ultimately came up short at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s title hopes came to a disappointing end Sunday on the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway . Caught up in a multi-car accident during the first of two green-white-checkered attempts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up 31st in the GEICO 500 . A long shot became no shot. The opportunity to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup went out the window when contact from Greg Biffle sent Earnhardt's car spinning into the wall. Earnhardt joined teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , as those eliminated from Chase title contention. "I don't know if I came down on him or what," Earnhardt said of the contact with the Roush Fenway Racing driver. "I thought I was holding my line, but we were all kind of tight back there.” Earnhardt , Johnson and Brad Keselowski , bringing up the rear of the Chase points heading into the race, needed a win to advance to the next round. Keselowski accomplished the feat, on one of the most treacherous tracks on the schedule. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was out front twice for 31 laps, and when he wasn't leading he was often dicing up front among those who were. But getting shuffled back in the field during the final stage of the race left him in a precarious position. "We worked real hard all day long trying to run up front," Earnhardt said. "I knew we needed to be up front all day long. We got shuffled to the back. I made a move trying to get up front and it didn't work out. So, we lost a lot of track position and never got it back. "You need to be up front. You need to be in the top four the last few restarts. Those are the guys that have a shot at it. You know you're not going to pass 10 or 12 cars there in six or seven laps. We tried. It just didn't work out." In a race that saw 38 lead changes among 19 drivers, Earnhardt broke out on top on Lap 75 and stayed on the point for 29 laps. He lost the lead during a round of pit stops, then led briefly for two more laps shortly afterward. He was able to stay around the top 10 for much of the second half of the race, until only some 30 or so laps remained. Even then, given the unpredictable nature of racing on the 2.66-mile track, hope remained. "We worked hard to try to get back into the top five or so, and it just didn't work out," he said. "The car did get loose on one run. We made a good adjustment and it was driving good at the end." Crew chief Steve Letarte said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "We just never could get a foothold; never could mount a charge back to the front," he said. "That's just how it is. Sometimes you get cycled out at the wrong time and that was definitely not the right time to get cycled out." While the car certainly seemed capable of winning, Letarte said the nature of racing here tempers expectations. "I'm not going to say it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't want to discount the hard work our company puts in the engines and these (crew) guys put into the car, but … a great car gives you very little guarantee." A winner of three races prior to the start of the Chase, Earnhardt came to Talladega on the heels of disappointing finishes at Kansas and Charlotte that put his team in a must-win scenario. That he was unable to advance was disappointing, but not crushing. "There have probably been worse things," he said. "I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. "We've had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too torn up about (it); we didn't run well." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Dale Earnhardt Jr . is caught in a major wreck in the first Green, White, Checkered attempt at Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman talk about their finish at Talladega.
Alan Cavanna looks to Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s past to see how the No. 88 can advance to the Eliminator Round after the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Junior: 'We're gonna win this race' RELATED: 40 pictures of Dale Jr . on his 40th birthday CONCORD, N.C. -- Feeling good on his 40th birthday, Dale Earnhardt Jr . called his shot in a televised interview after Friday's first practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We're gonna win this race. I've got a really good feeling about it," Earnhardt Jr . said. Earnhardt Jr . was 11th in the practice session at 188.633 mph and will line up ninth in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Despite being winless at Charlotte in 29 points starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr . has been optimistic about his chances to win the race throughout the week. "I'm really excited, actually," Earnhardt Jr . told the media on Thursday. "I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend. Super-fast car, this place is a bit similar. "We obviously know what the situation is with the points and how important it is for us to come in here and win the race. I have been winless at Charlotte in a points-paying race since I started my career, so it's bound to happen sooner or later. I always win at the weirdest times, in the oddest circumstances. So I feel like everything is lining up and feel real good about this weekend." On the season, Earnhardt Jr . has three wins, 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He finished 19th here in the spring in the Coca-Cola 600 and has not recorded a top-five finish at the track since 2008. Earnhardt Jr . led 45 laps at Kansas and was running the best he had in the Chase before a cut tire derailed his day and led to a 39th-place finish. With two races remaining in the Contender Round, Earnhardt Jr . is 11th in the standings and 25 points back of the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. A Chase driver must be in the top eight in points or have a win to advance to that round. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Get the latest Dale Earnhardt Jr news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
Get the latest Dale Earnhardt Jr news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
No. 88 driver moves to tail end of the field RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Dale Earnhardt Jr . had to make an unscheduled stop on pit road after experiencing issues with his shifter after a caution on Lap 137 of Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He first came to pit road before it was open, sending him to the tail end of the field. The No. 88 crew removed the passenger side window in order to get better access to the shifter, with one teammate half inside the car as he made repairs. Not wanting to go a lap down, Junior headed back onto the track without the issue fixed, and returned to pit road once it opened, falling to 23rd on the restart but staying on the lead lap. "I gotta come back, it didn't work," Junior said after the second stop, where he was penalized for speeding. As he was still able to shift from third to fourth gear, he stayed on the track as his team came up with an alternate plan. "You handle the track," crew chief Steve Letarte told his driver. Earnhardt restarted 22nd, and was last in the Chase standings at the time of the restart. After a spin by Brian Vickers brought out the caution flag on Lap 237, the No. 88 team decided to pit and try to fix the issue once again. Following the repair, they made another pit stop for tires, and restarted once again at the tail end of the field one lap down with just over 90 laps to go. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Driver of the No. 88 in a win-or-go-home situation in Contender Round finale RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize As the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500 (Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, ESPN), several drivers are desperate to make a big move and keep themselves in the postseason. One of those drivers is Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt Jr . comes into Talladega 12th in the points standings and so far on the outside looking in at the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He is 26 points behind Kasey Kahne , who holds the final transfer spot to the next round. So the surest -- and in all likelihood only -- way for Junior to advance is with a win. With plenty on the line and only two spots locked up for the Eliminator Round, the expectation is for a wilder race than normal. "I think Talladega is going to be pretty crazy -- I expect guys are going to have to take some pretty big chances to continue to move on into the later rounds of the Chase, and Talladega is a track where we are all pretty much on top of each other in the draft and guys are going to have every opportunity to make things pretty interesting, so I expect that race to get pretty wild," Earnhardt Jr . said when asked about the Contender Round finale. The recently turned 40-year-old has had his share of success at Talladega with five wins in 29 starts at the 2.66-mile track, but he has not won there since 2004. He has led laps, though, in all but three of his starts at the Alabama track. And while he won't need to lead plenty, he will need to be leading at the end in order to keep his championship hopes alive. So what is his strategy? "I think you got to get in there and just run as hard as you can and try and take every opportunity you can to just keep moving forward and take every position you can take," Earnhardt Jr . said. "We've thought at times that a more relaxed and patient attitude will be more beneficial, but I haven't really ever had that pay off for me and good results with that race track. The races where I've ran my best is where I've been more proactive and aggressive, trying to move forward and trying to make passes and trying to keep track position, so I think that's what we'll try to do this time." Steve Letarte, Earnhardt Jr .'s crew chief for the past four seasons, echoed those thoughts in an interview earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive." "We're going to be that team that's aggressive. Aggressive with our fuel strategy, aggressive with our pit strategy. Try to keep the lead, try to assume track position does matter at Talladega. Try to be in the lead when it matters and then Dale's gonna have to do his thing and then we're going to have to get some help from the guys behind us. That's the one unfortunate part about speedway racing, is that no matter how good you are, you are going to need some commitment from the people pushing you. That's the scenario we didn't want to have happen, but you know, we're here." Letarte is leaving the No. 88 team after this season to move to the broadcast booth with NBC Sports' coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015. He says the team knows what has to be done. "I don't think there's anymore pressure than there was going to Charlotte," Letarte said. Dale Jr . called his own shot of winning the Bank of America 500, but a broken shifter derailed his day and led to a 20th-place finish. Letarte added that the No. 88 team's position in the standings lends itself to a go for broke mentality. "The guys that are in, that could fall out, they're going to have a more stressful day, in my opinion, at Talladega than the guys that are way out hoping to get in, because we've kind of made our bed." Should the No. 88 team not advance, Letarte says not to expect them to lay down for the final four races. "We're not giving up by any means," Letarte said. "Even if we fall out at Talladega, we are still not giving up. We race to win and I know the championship was the big buzz all year long and its great, but there's a lot of years you don't race for a championship. There's a lot of guys that miss the Chase. You look at the 42 car, he's not laying down. He's racing to win and I think you're going to see it out of the four teams that don't make it out of Talladega." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Sport's most popular driver hasn't won at Alabama track since 2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr . has five career Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega Superspeedway in his career. Earnhardt Jr . won four straight races at the 2.66-mile track from the fall race of 2001 to the spring race of 2003. He also had a seven-race stretch from the fall race of 2001 to the fall race of 2004 where he won five times and finished second in the other two races. His 15.0 average finish (in 29 races) is the best among drivers to make at least five starts there. However, he has just four top-10 finishes in his last 13 races at the Alabama track.