Earn­hardt Jr. just can’t catch a break

The Hamilton Spectator - - RACING 2017 - ELLEN J. HORROW

RICH­MOND, VA. — Dale Earn­hardt Jr. took a cou­ple of laps around Rich­mond Race­way and pulled down pit road.

As his pas­sen­ger ex­ited and he pre­pared to be­gin another ride, fluid dripped from be­hind his No. 88 Chevro­let forc­ing Earn­hardt to go to a backup car.

It was the per­fect mi­cro­cosm of 2017 for NASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver, who can’t seem to catch a break on the race track — even dur­ing a fun, pro­mo­tional event.

Earn­hardt was at Rich­mond Tues­day host­ing mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton Redskins, whose train­ing camp is a few miles down the road from the track that will stage the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale next month. It was an ideal work event for the 42-year old, com­bin­ing his twin pas­sions — rac­ing and Redskins foot­ball — but even this ac­tiv­ity went awry, like much of his fi­nal sea­son as a full­time Cup driver.

Earn­hardt had just taken line­backer Will Comp­ton for a spin around the .75-mile track in his Ax­alta Chevro­let and was gear­ing up for his next ride with quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins, when track of­fi­cials no­ticed rear coolant fluid leak­ing from his car onto pit road. Staff scram­bled to jack up the car and make re­pairs but time was short; the play­ers needed to re­turn to train­ing camp.

Not de­terred, Earn­hardt jumped be­hind the wheel of a Chevro­let Ca­maro pace car with Cousins strap­ping into the pas­sen­ger seat, and the duo roared out onto the track. Line­backer Ryan Ker­ri­gan, tackle Mor­gan Moses and cor­ner­back Josh Norman fol­lowed in the Ca­maro, and just as an ex­hil­a­rated Norman ex­ited the car, the No. 88 was re­paired and ready to go. There was time for one more ride in Earn­hardt’s No. 88, and an ec­static Norman ea­gerly climbed in.

Just like he has all sea­son, Earn­hardt made the best of a frus­trat­ing sit­u­a­tion.

The Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports driver has seven DNFs in 22 Cup starts — in­clud­ing his most re­cent race last Sun­day at Watkins Glen In­ter­na­tional — in what was sup­posed to be one fi­nal glo­ri­ous sea­son for the long­time face of NASCAR. Earn­hardt ac­knowl­edged this year has been much more dif­fi­cult and dis­ap­point­ing than he an­tic­i­pated.

“Not run­ning well, it hurts,” said Earn­hardt, who has scored just four top-10 fin­ishes in 2017. “You get dis­ap­pointed about it and you get frus­trated. We know what we’re ca­pa­ble of as a team. The one thing that’s im­por­tant, though, is that you got a dozen guys that work on that car, and if one of us falls apart emo­tion­ally over this whole deal, it’s go­ing to af­fect the whole team. So the only thing you can do is put a smile on your face and tell the guys to be ready for the next race.

“It sucks and it’s hard to shake that off and right yourself men­tally and emo­tion­ally, but it’s im­por­tant to be able to do that.”

Earn­hardt has four reg­u­lar-sea­son races re­main­ing be­fore the 16-driver play­off field will be set. Ranked 23rd in the stand­ings, his only chance to com­pete for an elu­sive cham­pi­onship af­ter 19 years in NASCAR’s pre­mier se­ries is to win one of those races.

His next op­por­tu­nity comes this week­end at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speedway, where he has reached vic­tory lane twice — in 2008 and 2012. Races at Bris­tol Motor Speedway and Dar­ling­ton Race­way fol­low be­fore the se­ries re­turns to Rich­mond on Sept. 9.

Asked to rate his com­fort level at the four tracks, Earn­hardt hes­i­tated a mo­ment be­fore rank­ing them.

“I’m prob­a­bly most com­fort­able at Michi­gan be­cause we’ve had a cou­ple of wins there in the last few years,” Earn­hardt said. “Rich­mond is a track that I’ve had a lot of suc­cess at, though not so much re­cently. (Earn­hardt has three ca­reer Cup wins at Rich­mond, most re­cently in 2006.)

“I love rac­ing at Bris­tol, but man is that a tough place to win. We fin­ished sec­ond there last year, but it’s a tough track to go to and ex­pect to win — ev­ery­thing has got to go right for you on that track.

“Dar­ling­ton, for me, is re­ally the tough­est track phys­i­cally and men­tally. Aside from Sonoma, it’s prob­a­bly the hard­est track to race at, so it’s a big chal­lenge.”

Dale Earn­hardt Jr. was at Rich­mond Tues­day host­ing mem­bers of his beloved Wash­ing­ton Redskins, whose train­ing camp is a few miles down the road.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.