Loose wheel again causes problems for Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Hendrick Motorsports driver will likely have to win next Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt was having a mediocre day during Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, running just outside the top 20 when he was forced to pit road under green-flag conditions.

Coming off a restart on Lap 159, Earnhardt told the crew he had a loose wheel and brought the No. 88 Chevrolet to the attention of his pit crew.

The issue dropped Earnhardt down to 27th on the leaderboard, one lap down to the race leaders.

When the checkered flag flew, Earnhardt was 21st, two laps down to race winner Joey Logano. 

Earnhardt also had two incidents with loose lug nuts in the Chase elimination race at Dover International Speedway, but was able to overcome and advance to the next round. Earnhardt’s pit crew saw multiple changes in the lead up to the Chase, but he and crew chief Greg Ives have continually supported the over-the-wall crew.

Last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt hit the wall multiple times, finishing the day 28th on the leaderboard. After the disappointing finish, Earnhardt kept a positive outlook, saying his team has nothing to lose moving forward trying to advance in the Chase. 

Chase update: Who is in the most trouble heading to Talladega?

The deepest finisher of the 12 Chase drivers Sunday at Kansas, Earnhardt heads to Talladega 31 points behind the eighth-place cutoff. After next weekend’s CampingWorld.com 500, the bottom four drivers in the points will be eliminated from title contention. 

Perhaps there is no better place than Talladega for Earnhardt to face a must-win situation. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet has six total wins at Talladega, including the race there earlier this year. 

"Don’t count us out. We’ve got confidence and we’ve definitely got a car to do it," said Earnhardt. "Talladega’s the track I’m ready to go to. That’s our best shot to win." 

Despite the precarious position headed into Talladega, Earnhardt remains confident and upbeat about the situation.

"I’m not frustrated," he said. "I’m not mentally or emotionally drained or anything like that. The way the Chase is racked up, it’s going to give you these kinds of results if you don’t perform. We’re going to have to go to Talladega and try not to get eliminated, but I’ve been in this before, and it is what it is. We’ll try to go run hard and if we don’t win the championship this year, it’s not life-threatening."