Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t sure what happened to his No. 88 Chevrolet to send him hard into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 219 of the Food City 500, but he knows it resulted in another poor finish.
“It’s unfortunate,” Earnhardt said. “We weren’t running that great, but we were working on our car and trying to figure out how to get it run better. And get something out of today, but we are going to have another bad finish. We’ve had a lot of them this year. It’s going to be tough.”
It was an early exit from Bristol Motor Speedway in a race where Earnhardt had not been showing much progress. He started 20th after qualifying was washed out Friday, and had been running around the top 25 when the accident happened. Earnhardt will finish outside the top 30 for the fourth time in eight races.
“I don’t know, we broke something in the oil system under caution,” Earnhardt said. “The guys said there was some oil in the pit stall after our pit stop. I noticed when I was getting lined up double file for the restart the car was smoking. I just thought maybe we had a tire rub for some reason, but I couldn’t remember what might have caused that, and I went into Turn 1 on the restart and the car went straight into the wall with oil all over the tires.
“Came into the garage there, and they are working on where the hole in the system is. Just something is messed up, but that is going to be the finish for us.”
After missing the last 18 races of the 2016 season, Earnhardt felt it would take some time to knock the rust off in his return. But it’s been a much rockier start to the season than expected, which began with a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500. Since then, Earnhardt has captured just one top-10 finish, which came two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt admitted he was a bit surprised by how off his Hendrick Motorsports team was Monday at Bristol considering how practice went earlier in the weekend.
“We ran into some issues at the end of the last practice [Saturday] with the car and they were still there today,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know what in our setup is creating that. It’s not like I’m feeling something that I wasn’t familiar with. We did have some good practices and felt pretty confident, but apparently, whatever we got into the car late in the last practice we didn’t tune it back out.
“We were really tight in the center and tight in the throttle and guys were beating me really bad back to the gas. That ain’t no way to run anywhere, really.”