Dale Jr.'s day ends early after car catches fire
April 07, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't mince words despite the disappointment and frustration so apparent on his face from his short day as he walked out of the Texas Motor Speedway infield care center only 12 laps into Monday's rain-delayed Duck Commander 500.
"Just a mistake on my part, didn't know I was that close to the grass," Earnhardt said shaking his head.
Although Earnhardt insisted he was fine physically, the single-car accident looked frightening as his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet's left side tires drove through the wet, slick infield grass and turned hard back up the track -- flames shooting out of the car as it made hard contact with the outside wall. While some drivers had reported damp spots on the 1.5-mile Texas high banks, Earnhardt was adamant that he didn't consider it a concern.
"It didn't have anything to do with what happened to me, I just ran into the grass on the apron," Earnhardt said. "I was following the 43 (Aric Almirola) and just couldn't see the grass, how close I was.
"I thought I was taking a decent line by the dogleg, I was getting around the 42 (Kyle Larson) so was lower than normal, but I just misjudged it."
It was definitely not the ending Earnhardt envisioned after sitting through an entire day's rain delay on Sunday only to crash on the second lap of green flag racing Monday. But more significantly, Earnhardt came to Fort Worth as the Sprint Cup Series points leader -- by nine points over Matt Kenseth -- thanks to a Daytona 500 victory and four top-three finishes in the first six races.
Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports team briefly looked over the car in hopes of repairing it enough to return to the track and salvage any championship points. Ultimately, though, the team decided there was just too much damage and Dale Jr. would finish the day in 43rd-place.
Earnhardt's crew chief, Steve Letarte, later said on Twitter that the car was so badly damaged he spent time on flight back home to North Carolina ordering a new chassis. He added the fire was caused by damage to "oil line/oil cooler/oil pump/oil tank. … You get the idea."
Debris from Earnhardt's car also damaged his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson's Chevy, forcing the six-time champ to pit multiple times for repairs and putting him two laps down. Johnson would finish the race in 25th place.
"I'm disappointed," Earnhardt said. "Don't like it when I made the mistake there and that's going to bother me for a while.
"We've got a test Tuesday in Michigan and going into Darlington which is a difficult track. It's going to be a long week."