Dale Earnhardt, Jr., relaxes before the start of Sunday’s race at MIS. He wasn’t so calm after it was over. He finished 21st after teammate Mark Martin pushed him into the wall with fewer than 10 laps remaining.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt, Jr., left Michigan International Speedway frustrated and angry Sunday night after watching the meter tick off one more race, one more week without a win.
Earnhardt’s extended absence from Victory Lane has now hit 108 races. He had hoped to end the swoon at Michigan International Speedway, site of the most recent Earnhardt Sprint Cup Series victory in June of 2008, but his day found a troublesome ending when he got pushed into the wall by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin with less than 10 laps left.
“He just come on up and drove us into the fence,” Earnhardt said. “He just ran us flat into the wall. I don’t know how else to explain it. We had the car pretty good at that point.”
His No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet had a battered right side and was smoking as a shredded tired slapped the fender when Earnhardt came down pit road for repairs. Instead of figuring in the finish of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400, Earnhardt limped home 21st and blamed Martin for the mess his car was in.
“We had fixed the car, we were moving forward, and we were doing pretty well at that point, but, you can’t do nothing about getting run over or getting run into the wall,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt said he expected more from a veteran like Martin.
“If they tables were turned, I would have been smarter and give him plenty of room, more than he did me,” he said. “He is older than me, been racing forever, and knows a lot more than I’ll ever get or he has forgot more stuff than I’ll ever know. Still, I take better care of people than that.”
Earnhardt, who was running in the top 10 for more than a third of the race, including a sequence before the dustup with Martin, said he will forge on and hope to find a win on the next stop.
“I never give up, even at the end when the car was beat all to hell. But I don’t like to put up with carelessness,” said Earnhardt, who has finished second twice in the last four races. “I guess we can try to get our stuff together and see what we can do.”
Martin, who finished ninth, brushed off the incident and said he would patch things up with his teammate.
“I don’t have a history of having problems. I don’t think I have one now,” Martin said. “I think we will get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the race track respect. I made a mistake.”
Despite his struggles, Earnhardt remained third in the Sprint Cup Series points standings, trailing leader Carl Edwards and second-place Kevin Harvick.
CROWD THINS: Michigan International Speedway officials estimated Sunday’s crowd for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at about 88,000. The track recently reduced its overall grandstand seating capacity to about 108,000. The infield was jammed as usual, but there were large open spaces in the grandstands furthest from the start/finish line.
NEW SURFACE: The Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway to race in August, and following that visit, the track surface will be removed and replaced before the start of the 2012 season.
JOHNSON’S DEMISE: Five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson had a day worth forgetting. Johnson started 21st but just eight laps into the race had his No. 48 car sideways coming out of turn two when he lost grip on the track. Both front tires blew as Johnson locked up his brakes in a long slide across the apron.
As Johnson brought the car the long distance back to pit road, his front sway bar was heavily damaged and had to be removed. His crew replaced the blown tires but had to fabricate a replacement sway bar as Johnson returned to the track. He lost a lap in the mix and was two laps down after returning to the pits so his team could swarm over the car and make additional repairs.
Johnson worked from the back of the field the rest of the day, finishing a lap down in 27th place.
“Yeah, it was a tough day,” said Johnson, who dropped three places in the points standings to fifth. “We got turned around early and ground the sway bar off the right front. We lost a couple laps from that, and we were just kind of in a hole at that point and couldn’t get caught back up. It’s just part of it.”