By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
I think the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s favorite restrictor plate car — Amelia — is officially over. The car, which was crashed hard in the season-opening Daytona 500, was repaired over the last few months by Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports team and Sunday the car made it’s return to the track in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
However, on lap 50, Amelia did the same thing that it did in February. When Earnhardt was navigating traffic in front of and beside him, the car broke loose. Earnhardt tried to save it, but over corrected, and as a result he spun back across the track in front of the field, collecting his teammate Kasey Kahne and a couple of others in the process.
After being cleared in the infield care center, Earnhardt described what went wrong on lap 50.
“Just got loose,” Earnhardt explained. “I was in a bad spot with the wind. It pinned the nose real hard off the corner and the car was a little bit loose off the corner that run. Real, real tight the first run that is why we fell back, we were just on the splitter real bad pushing. I could only run the top, I couldn’t even run the middle or the bottom because the car just would plow across the race track. So, we missed something this morning, I don’t know, but the thing shouldn’t have been on the splitter that hard. We couldn’t fix that. You have to put packer in the front or something when it is on the splitter as bad as it was. It was still on the splitter that second run. I had a lot of wheel in the car in the middle of the corner and then the back was swinging on the exit with the adjustments we made on the pit stop. Just a bad combination.”
Earnhardt’s team went to work on the car, so that the No. 88 could get back on track to help collect more championship points. However, when Earnhardt was on his way back to the track from the garage, a scary moment occurred. Earnhardt’s steering wheel popped out while he was driving. From watching video of his in-car camera, you could see Earnhardt immediately gab the steering column, and steer the car with his hand before popping the wheel back on.
“Yeah, the steering wheel came off and I was trying to get it back on and the car was headed toward the wall,” Earnhardt recalled. “Well I wasn’t going to let it hit the wall so I grabbed the column and steered it with that. Tore my hands all up, but didn’t hit the wall. We have to look at something to keep that from happening anymore.”
That could have been a horrific moment. Earlier this season at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt’s teammate — Jimmie Johnson — had a similar incident that resulted in a terrible crash.
However, Earnhardt’s day would end a little while later on lap 110. As Earnhardt was on track logging laps, Carl Edwards cut a tire in the low line entering turn three. Edwards’ car would veer straight into the wall, collecting Earnhardt in the process. Earnhardt’s car would erupt in flames, and his day would officially end. Earnhardt wound up dead-last in the 40-car field.
Earnhardt was asked if Amelia would officially be retired after taking a beating Sunday, “Hell, I’m going home. I’m done. We need to park the car for a while, too.”
Image: Jerry Markland/Getty Images