News & Media

Mistakes at Charlotte frustrate, disappoint Earnhardt

October 17, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Still has faith in team, but 'pretty upset' they can't capitalize on opportunities

On a rare Saturday night when none of the four Hendrick Motorsports entries were able to so much as finish on the lead lap, the No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. had only themselves to blame.

Crew chief Steve Letarte made a decision to pit early in the race in an effort to gain track position and that ultimately backfired because of how the next caution fell. Later on, Earnhardt had to make a return trip to pit road under green because his left rear wheel was loose.

"I believe in these guys and every time I come down pit road I'm excited about the group that's going to put some tires on my car."


It eventually led to a 19th-place finish by Earnhardt, one lap behind race winner Matt Kenseth in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt was haunted by the mistakes. He actually was two laps down at one point and had to rally just to finish where he did.

"We were sitting out there racing those guys that finished around 10th and pitted early, trying to gain a little ground on the leader that was coming to lap us. And the caution came out and trapped us down a couple laps," he said. "We got a couple wave-arounds and then had a loose wheel that cost us another lap. We just have to correct some of those mistakes. I can't fault Steve for trying to pit early, and do what he thought was right with the strategy. I thought that was a good call, just un-lucky that the No. 21 [of Trevor Bayne] ran out of gas or whatever happened to him [to bring out the caution].

"The loose-wheel stuff we just need to work on. I have a lot of faith in my guys. They will get it right; I believe in them. Not everybody is perfect and we will get that sorted out. I'm sure they will fight back next week and have a good week. We just had a couple of little circumstances like that, and that cost us a shot at finishing in the top 10."

Not that it mattered much, but Earnhardt ended up with the best finish of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers -- as Jeff Gordon finished 21st, Jimmie Johnson finished 34th and Mark Martin finished 37th. Both Gordon and Johnson were involved in late-race accidents that cost them dearly.

Earnhardt and Gordon finished one lap down; Johnson finished 18 laps down; and Martin, who battled mechanical issues, completed just 289 of the race's 334 laps.

Earnhardt was left wanting more. He hinted that perhaps there could be changes to his pit crew, but later backed off that comment a little and admitted he made some mistakes as the driver that he needs to correct as well.

"You want to finish as high as you can in the points, no matter where that is," said Earnhardt, who remained ninth in the Chase standings but fell from 43 points off the lead to 60. "You want to do as best as you can. We're not doing the best we can and it's just disappointing and frustrating. But I don't think we need to make any changes on the team. I believe in these guys and every time I come down pit road I'm excited about the group that's going to put some tires on my car. We just made a mistake and I'm sure [crew chief Steve Letarte] won't let that happen again.

"Everybody knows how critical it is in this sport and there's a guy right behind you that is ready to take your spot who is waiting on you to make that mistake. You can't make it too many times before somebody will come in there and fill your place. That's really all Steve's call and decision and how he'll handle it. I understand that everyone is human, but I'm pretty upset that we're just not capitalizing on opportunities. We should finish in the top 10 every single week. We're either beating ourselves or making mistakes or circumstances just aren't happening for us. We can't seem to really put together a clean race."