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Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be without crew chief Greg Ives at Richmond because of penalty

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500

DARLINGTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 03: Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the #88 Nationwide Throwback Chevrolet during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 3, 2017 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – With one final shot to make the playoffs, it seems Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be facing the regular-season finale without crew chief Greg Ives.

Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet had two unsecured lug nuts after his 22nd-place finish in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The punishment for two unsecured lug nuts is a $20,000 fine and one-race suspension for the crew chief.

NASCAR usually announces penalties (which can be appealed but usually aren’t with lug nuts) by Wednesday.

Earnhardt, who will retire after this season, is 22nd in the points standings entering the Sept. 9 race at Richmond International Raceway, which is the last chance for making the 16-driver playoff field with a victory.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said he could tell his right-rear wheel was loose on the last green-flag run.

“I had a really bad vibration,” Earnhardt said. “They must have just kind of had a screw up. It wasn’t intentional. They wouldn’t leave two loose like that when they are not even tight up on the wheel. So, something must have happened on the pit stop because those guys have been great all night.”

Earnhardt made his final pit stop because of a right-rear flat.

“The right-rear was going down for a very long time and finally it went flat,” he said. “Came in, changed that and went back out, and it was so loose, you couldn’t go, so we had to abuse those tires too much at the end. Twelfth to 15th is where we all ran and I’m not too disappointed because we sat there and ran right with our teammates all night.”

Chase Elliott (11th) was the highest-finishing Hendrick Motorsports teammate, followed by Jimmie Johnson in 12th). Kasey Kahne was 24th.