But it wasn’t easy.
Earnhardt, who came into the race needing to finish 20th or better to lock up a Chase spot, was caught in a lap eight accident that saw 13 cars involved on the front stretch.
He suffered damage to the front end of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet and was forced to make several trips to pit road for repairs.
He was able to survive the rest of the way facing several more challenges and returns to pit road for a 16th-place finish, good enough to give him the 10th and final transfer spot into the Chase.
“I wasn’t worried at all. I had seen race cars run good at short tracks before and I figured we had all night to fix it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I felt like if we were a good enough team, we’d get the job done.”
Crew chief Steve Letarte did what he could to keep Earnhardt confident behind the wheel while ensuring his crew was doing all it could to keep the car headed in the right direction.
Even though they accomplished the goal, Letarte admitted it was a challenge.
“For 399 laps, I never felt like it was a guarantee,” crew chief Steve Letarte said. “Once we took the white, I was good enough with my math that we were good enough right there. I call that a great night. I call that a championship performance when you take a car that damaged right there.
“We were very lucky the radiator stayed in it. We got all the way back up to 15th with it. That’s perseverance, man. When it’s damaged that bad, you don’t really know if the car was going to be good or not.”
Now with his goal of returning to NASCAR’s playoffs done, Earnhardt will set his sights on running for a championship beginning next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Earnhardt believes he has a team capable of running better than it did in the final weeks of the regular season and being a factor in the Chase.
“I was disappointed we didn’t get to show how good a car we had because I thought we had a good one in practice, and it was all over with now,” Earnahrdt Jr. said. “We’ll just go see how we can do in the Chase.”
“I feel like I’m a good enough driver to be in the Chase, my team is good enough to be there. As a group I think we’re good enough to be in the Top 10, and I can look back over the season and just easily think of several instances where we cost ourselves 10 or 15 points and made this situation difficult this weekend.”