NASCAR

Dale Jr's Kentucky hopes deflated

FOX Sports Tom Jensen
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When Dale Earnhardt Jr., crew chief Steve Letarte and the rest of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports race team was plotting strategy for Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, they weighed a lot of options: track position, fuel mileage and pit strategy were all examined and re-examined in their pre-race planning.

What they didn’t account for — what they couldn’t have conceivably even imagined — was how a loose tire would eliminate them from contention for a victory. And as things turned out, Earnhardt, Letarte and Co. did well to salvage a 12th-place finish.

What happened on track was just flat bizarre: Earnhardt qualified on the pole and was leading the race when Denny Hamlin lost a right-front tire on Lap 38. While Hamlin was coming down the pit-road entrance, the carcass of the tire came off and struck first the nose of Earnhardt’s car, then the nose of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was in second place at the time.

Earnhardt hit the tire low, which bent the right side of his splitter up just slightly. It didn’t look too bad, but it was enough to seriously damage the aerodynamic properties of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS and totally dash the hopes of the millions of fervent fans who thought this was going to be Earnhardt’s day to return to Victory Lane.

Needless to say, the driver himself was disappointed as well, but he soldiered on through a long series of pit stops. And he was able to drive back from the tail end of the lead-lap cars to finish reasonably well in his wounded ride.

That’s all he and the team could do.

“You just fix it and keep going,” said Earnhardt. “The guys did a good job on pit road all day long working on it and trying to fix everything. I'm not sure we got everything back where it is supposed to be, but we did well enough to get a decent finish out of it. Just proud of how hard the team worked. Did a good job for qualifying, and put a good car out there for the race.”

As for what happened. Well, Earnhardt reckoned it was just one of those racing deals.

“Can't do anything about what happened out there on the race track with that casing,” he said. “They (his crew) worked hard on it to get it right, and get it good enough where we could run well. So, they deserve a lot of credit today.”

Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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