For the second time this season Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Michigan International Speedway frustrated. In June NASCAR’s eight time most popular driver led 34 of the 200 laps only to have his engine expire on lap 132. Sunday it wasn’t the engine in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy that let him down.
After starting seventh Sunday Earnhardt took the lead on lap 43 during a round of pit stops and went on to lead 20 laps. He was running strong inside the top five and looked to be in position to contend for the win. But on lap 135 the right front tire let loose sending the No. 88 Chevy into the turn two wall.
“It was down on the splitter getting into the corner,” Earnhardt told Examiner. “I got it slowed down pretty good and then started getting close to the wall and put a little brake in it and it blew the tire out. It had a slow leak and I don’t know.”
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The crew worked feverishly and was able to return Earnhardt to the track but 21 laps down. Earnhardt was clearly aggravated.
“It’s just the tire; we’ve had a lot of problems with,” Earnhardt said. “I think this is the same tire we struggled with the last race. But, I don’t know, you know. It’s just kind of frustrating. It’s just bad luck.”
The trouble comes a week after Earnhardt was involved in a crash at Watkins Glen that left him in 30th. In June at Michigan, Earnhardt was scored 37th, at the end of the day Sunday he was scored only one spot better in 36th. He also lost one spot in the Chase standings and is seventh. Earnhardt however doesn’t seem worried.
“If we keep running like we’re supposed to run and like we’ve been running, we’ll get on into the Chase and not have to worry about it,” he said. “But this bad luck, we need to shake that. We just can’t keep having this every week. It’s been biting us every week. So we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Even with only three races left before the Chase field is set, Earnhardt seems pretty confident about his chances of being in the season ending championship.
“There are guys in worst positions than us,” Earnhardt said. “We ain’t got to outrun just one guy; there’s a lot of guys. And all of them have got to have clean races, just like we do. I think we’ll be all right. We’re not an 11th place team. We’re a Top 5 team. We’re consistent. We’re more consistent than most. We’ve just got to shake this luck, whatever is going on; it’s something different every time. We’ve got good speed and we’ve just got to keep our head up and keep working hard and things will be all right.”
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