By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Luck has not been kind to Dale Earnhardt Jr. through the 42-year old driver’s first two races back after missing the final 18 races of last season with a concussion. At Daytona, Earnhardt was swept up in a crash while he was leading The Great American Race. Fast forward to this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, and the horrid luck continued for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.
Earnhardt rolled off the grid Sunday from the 12th position, and over the first run on tires his car seemed pretty decent. However, Earnhardt’s day began to spiral out of control when he was busted for speeding on pit road during a lap 34 pit stop.
As a result of the penalty, Earnhardt fell a lap off the pace in the 28th position.
“Well we got caught speeding on pit road as I guess a lot of people did,” Earnhardt explained. “So, we got to look at that and see what we have wrong. I was on my lights perfectly, but seems like a lot of guys got popped in the same segment.”
Earnhardt tried to rally back and put himself in a position for the free pass, but with less than 20 laps remaining in segment one, Earnhardt’s right rear tire shredded apart. Skillfully Earnhardt kept the car under him and was able to get it to the attention of his pit crew, but it cost him another lap to the field.
Earnhardt ended segment one in the 28th spot, two laps down. Problems just continued to compound for the remainder of the afternoon for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Over the final two stages of the race, Earnhardt suffered from several loose wheels. Finally the team pitted to add a spacer, which seemed to solve the problem. Earnhardt would sputter to a 30th-place finish.
“We had a flat right-rear tire and then we had a gun go bad and we had loose wheels all day long,” Earnhardt recalled. “And then when we tried to get the wave around the cautions didn’t quite fall in our favor to be able to try to find a way back to a respectable position. That is okay.”
The horrible outing was okay, because before things went awry, Earnhardt noticed that his car had very good speed.
“The car had good top 10 speed and we just had a lot of bad luck today and can’t really get too upset about that,” Earnhardt said. “Just have to keep racing when it does go right next week and we are ready to go and capitalize. I’m looking forward to the next couple of race tracks. A lot of fun race track coming up.”
Now Earnhardt heads to the West Coast swing 33rd in the championship standings. To put in perspective how bad the start to the 2017 season has been for the No. 88 driver, Michael McDowell, David Ragan and Michael Waltrip, who retired after the Daytona 500, are all ahead of him heading into Las Vegas.
However, Earnhardt still has his head held high and the luck is bound to go his way sooner rather than later.