DOVER, Del. -- Prior to Dover, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s latest top-10 finish came at Sonoma in June.
It got him thinking.
"I feel like a road-course ringer," said Earnhardt, who is not known for his road-racing prowess.
Earnhardt finished seventh at Dover in a race in which he ran in the top-10 all day. While the focus remained on the 16 playoff drivers, Earnhardt was one of three not in the playoffs to post top-10 finishes. Clint Bowyer was sixth and Daniel Suarez was eighth.
"It wasn't a win, but it was a good day." Bowyer said.
For those not in the playoffs, good days will provide a little momentum into next season. They also might mean a little bit of money, as the top 25 in the standings earn dollars from the series points fund.
Bowyer is 17th in the standings (no one who didn't make the playoffs can finish any higher), while Suarez is 20th and Earnhardt is 22nd.
"This team is really a good team, and we have just had a lot of odd misfortune and we have ill-prepared ourselves at times," Earnhardt said. "When the car is good, it seems like we have some bad luck.
"Then there are weekends where we just can't get the car right. It's been a pretty down year, but hopefully this weekend is the start of some more good runs. I think we will end this thing strong, and I am excited."
Suarez is the second-highest rookie in the standings, one spot (but 75 points) behind his future Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones.
"It's pretty much all we had," Suarez said about his run.
The one thing drivers who are not in the playoffs can do is experiment with parts, pieces and setups. For many, it's about working toward next year.
Earnhardt, though, doesn't have a next year, as he will retire at the end of the season. He's not thinking about 2018.
"We ran really good at Darlington, and it carried over to Richmond [last month]," Earnhardt said. "We had a strong run there, and we were really good on the long runs there.
"We brought some of those same principles to Dover. Some of that stuff can probably carry over. I am optimistic that our performance is on the uptick, and we will see how it works out for next week."
Xfinity Series: Playoff points making difference
Last year, William Byron lost a chance at winning the truck title when his engine blew late in the race at Phoenix, costing him a spot among the four finalists at Homestead.
His "gut punch" was one of the reasons NASCAR developed the playoff-point system, with which drivers carry playoff points from the entire year from each round until they get to the finale in Homestead.
So after a third-place finish (and winning a stage for an additional playoff point) at Dover, Byron can feel good going into the last race of the opening round.
Byron has a 49-point edge on eighth, while his teammate Justin Allgaier has a 52-point edge. They could have finished last Saturday at Charlotte and would miss only if two drivers eighth to 12th in the standings had top-5 days. And that still might not be enough to knock them out.
And if the points were reset today, Byron would be the leader with 26 points, with a 19-point cushion on fourth place entering the next three-race round.
"It's really a good thing for us to go into Charlotte and to be able to keep pushing," Byron said. "We want to get a few wins before the playoffs are over."
Camping World Truck Series: Win ... and wait
The trucks will have a weekend off before their elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway.
That leaves six drivers vying for four sports (in trucks, only two drivers get eliminated each round). Even Matt Crafton (a 27-point cushion) and Johnny Sauter (24 points) can't breathe easy. They could race near the front at Talladega and possibly score stage points -- and risk being any mess that arises. Or they could run near the back and hope they don't get into trouble while those trying to rally have good days.
"We pulled it off at the end, when it matters," said Rhodes, who qualified into the playoffs by a point. "We're in the [semifinal] round of six now, and we are going to Homestead. This team just showed that it deserves to be in the playoffs after it's been so close."