CONCORD Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted to avoid having to win at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in order to advance to the next round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Yet that’s exactly what Earnhardt faces after a rough evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Earnhardt finished 20th in the Bank of America 500, finishing a lap behind race winner Kevin Harvick after dealing with a vibration and other gremlins with his No. 88 Chevrolet.
“It just wasn’t a good night,” Earnhardt said. “The car wasn’t handling well, and the vibrations were really giving us a lot of problems.
“We thought we had a pretty good car – good enough to run in the top 10. We had a good car in practice, but we never got a chance to really show it.”
Earnhardt was feeling pretty good entering Saturday night’s 500-miler, qualifying ninth. He even led three times for four laps in the early stages of the race, twice gambling on two-tire pit stops to move up front.
But that changed during the race’s third yellow flag, which came out on Lap 137 when Paul Menard’s Chevrolet blew its engine.
Earnhardt had been battling the vibration problem, but it became severe enough that it broke the gear shift lever. Running 10th at the time, he pitted early and often to make repairs.
The early pit stop – along with a penalty for speeding on pit road – forced Earnhardt to restart 23rd, the last car on the lead pack. He wound up losing a lap just past the midway point of the 334-lap race.
“The shifter just slam broke in half,” Earnhardt said. “It’s steel, so it shouldn’t be breaking like that, but that’s how bad the vibrations were. My (bottom) is numb, my feet are all itching. I feel like I’ve been on a jackhammer all day long.”
The finish leaves Earnhardt at the bottom of the Chase standings, 57 points behind Joey Logano with one race remaining – Talladega – before the bottom four drivers are cut.
“I ain’t worried about it,” Earnhardt said. “It is what it is. The good Lord’s got a plan. We’ll go down there, and if we’re supposed to win it, we’ll win it.”