Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Good Finish, Great Weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There was no October miracle, no last-minute charge to glory for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday’s Alabama 500, his final race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The third-generation racer managed to dodge much of the chaos that knocked 26 different cars out of the race, most coming in three late-race cautions, to finish a respectable seventh in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
The grandstands at Talladega were packed and the TV ratings the best for this race in five years, as rabid JR Nation fans sought to see their hero win one last time 17 years to the day after his father’s remarkable victory here.
Alas, it was not to be. Brad Keselowski wound up winning for the fifth time at Talladega, as Fords claimed four of the top five finishing spots.
Earnhardt’s car got damage on the right front during one of the late-race pileups in the closing laps, which robbed him of race-winning speed. And when his competitors saw he wasn’t as fast as he was, they wouldn’t draft with him at the end.
“The splitter on the right front was about an inch and a half low,” said Earnhardt. “When I’d go in the corner, my splitter would just get tight and slow. I couldn’t really push anybody or get any runs going. And nobody wanted to push me because they could see I was struggling a little bit. So, nobody wanted to go with us. But we got lucky and missed a lot of wrecks there.”
The splitter damage left Earnhardt wondering what might have been.
“I wish we could have seen what we could have done with a straight car at the end,” he said. “We tried to push Brad into the lead, but the splitter was on the ground so bad, we got disconnected, and everyone literally went right around us, and it was downhill from there.”
On the bright side, on a day when only 14 drivers finished the race, Earnhardt escaped injury at a track where he suffered a concussion in 2012.
“Yeah, I was worried about this one, and you know, I’m glad we got through it,” said Earnhardt, who will end his career with six Talladega Cup victories. “… You can’t win the race if you race scared, and I’ve raced scared here before, and you don’t do well when that happens, so you have to block it out and just go out there and take the risks and hope that it’s just not your day to get in one of those accidents, and it wasn’t.”
And while he didn’t win, Earnhardt otherwise had a great weekend.
The track presented him with a Chevrolet Monte Carlo that his father won the 1980 championship with and the fan support over the three days was incredible.
“I thought the car had enough to win before we bent the splitter down, and it was a great car all weekend,” said Earnhardt. “This has been a hell of a weekend for me, and I’m glad to be able to finish and finish well. That means a lot to me. I know a lot of folks came and traveled here to see us run, so I know they’re disappointed we didn’t win, but I’m glad they got to see us run the whole event, and hopefully they enjoyed it.”