By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

SONOMA, Calif.--Clearly, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was elated with his third-place finish in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway--and with good reason.

Never before had Earnhardt posted a top five in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at a road course, so it was only natural for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet to enjoy the moment.

Tempering Earnhardt's enthusiasm was an accident on lap 71 that eliminated Matt Kenseth from the race. Earnhardt hit the curbing in the esses, and his car bounced into Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota, sending Kenseth out of control into a tire barrier.

"I had an eventful race, and I tore Matt Kenseth's car up pretty bad jumping that curb," Earnhardt said. "I was racing him a little hard there coming out of Turn 7. He probably had the preferred line, and I probably should have yielded to him, but I was--I thought I was a little bit faster than him and didn't want to be stuck behind him.

"I straddled a curb, and it just launched my car in the air right into his car. I hope he's not too sore today."

Earnhardt's regrets over the Kenseth incident, however, couldn't keep him from smiling at his own result.

"Well, aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," Earnhardt said.

MORE AMBIVALENCE

You could say polesitter Jamie McMurray was experiencing mixed emotions after the race, too, but no one, including McMurray was certain what the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was feeling when he climbed from his car.

McMurray ran fourth, after runner-up Jeff Gordon and third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed him in the closing laps.

"I'm happy that I'm mad that I finished fourth, if that makes any sense," McMurray said. "I thought I had a chance to win, but when the last caution came out (on Lap 90), I was working (race winner) Carl (Edwards) there a little bit, and I was just waiting on him to make a mistake. I felt like I was better than he was.

"And when we went back to green, after the caution, I just used up too much car in (Turns) 1 and 2 and spun the tires really bad and paid the penalty for that the remainder of the run. But it was a really good day. Our pit crew did a really good job. We had a huge group of people with (sponsor) Cessna here today.

"So overall, I'm mad that we finished fourth, but we had a great weekend."

DINGER DINGED UP

AJ Allmendinger qualified second for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and led a race-high 35 laps, but that was the end of the good news for the driver of the No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevrolet.

Contact from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevy sent Allmendinger spinning into the frontstretch wall late in the race, and the resultant damage dropped him to 37th at the finish.

"We led a lot of laps today, and we were good enough to win the thing--no doubt," Allmendinger said. "It's just disappointing the way our day ended ... and to leave Sonoma with a car that's torn up.

"I'm proud of my guys and all the hard work they put in this weekend. It's just tough. We were hoping to bring home a win today for (sponsor) Kingsford and all our partners."