Six races into the season, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was having his strongest start in recent memory. After a win in the “Great American Race”, the Daytona 500, followed by two second place finishes in a row at Phoenix and Las Vegas, and despite two finishes outside the top 10 at Bristol and Auto Club Speedway in California, which he followed up with a third place finish at Martinsville, Junior was leading the points race.
Unfortunately, this just wasn’t Junior’s week. After rain postponed Sunday’s race at Texas to Monday, rain hindered the start yet again. The Duck Commander 500 finally started under caution conditions while NASCAR finished drying the track, after NASCAR rules mandated that a race must be officially underway within 24 hours of the originally scheduled start time. Ten laps into the official run of the race, NASCAR finally dropped the green flag to start the ‘real’ race.
On lap 13, just three laps after we first saw the green flag, Junior got a run on the #43 of Aric Almirola coming into the corner, and dropped to the low end of the track to attempt a pass. Unfortunately, Junior dropped too low, dropping his left front tire off the track into the grass, causing the front splitter to dig into the muddy turf, destroying the left front of the car. Junior’s #88 car then shot up the track and slammed hard into the outside wall, causing the car to burst into flames. Junior quickly drove the car to the inside of the track, parked and got out.
After being checked and released from the infield care center, Junior was asked what happened, to which he responded “I made a mistake”. Junior continued, stating that the angle at which he was approaching the corner, there’s a blind spot from inside the car that prevented him from being able to correctly judge how close he was to the grassy edge of the track.
In his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season, Junior placed last, 43rd, in the race, dropping him 5 positions to 6th in the points standings. Joey Logano’s #22 Penske Racing Ford won the race.
Junior fans can only hope NASCAR’s most popular driver has better luck next week under the lights in the fan favorite Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington. Coverage starts at 6:30pm ET on Saturday, April 12 on FOX.