While Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway marked the second consecutive win for Hendrick Motorsports, it was a truly wild and chaotic afternoon for Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After starting 10th and needing less than 20 laps to move into the top five, Earnhardt reported a Lap-48 tire issue that forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop under green. Despite losing a lap and falling all the way to 40th in the running order, Earnhardt quickly returned to lead lap by virtue of being the free pass recipient.
The drama wasn’t over for the third-generation driver, however.
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Back in the top five by Lap 139, Earnhardt was dealt another major setback when his car smacked the wall and incurred right-side damage. After telling crew chief Greg Ives that he was "wrecking loose," and dropping outside the top 20, Earnhardt spun and a caution flag waved. Following repairs on pit road, Earnhardt was once again a lap down — this time in 28th.
After returning to the lead lap with yet another free pass, and serving two tail-end-of-the-longest-line penalties for pitting too soon and having too many men over the wall, respectively, Earnhardt climbed back into the top 10 by Lap 235.
Restarting eighth on the final restart with 18 to go, Earnhardt moved up two spots to come home sixth — a pretty stout result, all things considered.
Earnhardt, however, couldn’t help but consider what might have been if his afternoon had gone a little more smoothly.
"We just think about what would have happened had we not had the drama," he said after the race. "I was having too much fun out there and got loose, three-wide after a restart, and tagged the wall real good and bent the car up pretty bad and knocked the rear deck lid off of it. We got the chance to fix it and we just had a real fast car."
Earnhardt heads into the season’s final two races sitting ninth in the standings. He’s the first driver outside the eight still in contention for the 2015 Sprint Cup title.
"I think we had the best car here," Earnhardt said. "Just can’t hit the wall, but man we were just having fun, running hard. Got to do that every once in a while. I made a mistake today."