By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was looking to bounce back from a dismal day in Martinsville a week ago, but things went awry in Texas when his No. 88 Chevrolet lost voltage on lap 187.
“We had a battery go dead, and I didn’t diagnose it correctly,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve got two batteries in there, and we’ve got a switch in the driver’s seat.”
Earnhardt out of instinct brought his machine to pit lane, when he easily could have just swapped to the back up battery, as Sprint Cup Series racecars are equipped with two batteries. We’ll never know what could have been had Earnhardt just swapped to the second battery, but he believes he could have salvaged a decent finish.
“We would have lost about a second (swapping to the other battery) — lose nothing. Yeah switch the battery, we’re good. Probably would have had to put another battery in it, because we burned down the second battery. So we would have — we’d probably have to go to the back of the lead lap at some point in the race and give up a ton of track position to fix the second battery, but we still would have finished in the top-20 real easily,” Earnhardt explained.
However Earnhardt opted to hit pit road, and with lack of voltage, comes lack of a tachometer — as a result the sport’s most popular driver was busted for speeding on pit road.
The issues continued to pile on from here as Earnhardt had to serve a pass-through speeding penalty. As he was passing through he decided to grab tires, and gas — that is a no-no, and he was black flagged yet again for another pass through penalty. Earnhardt explained after the race that he knew he would be penalized for taking tires here, but the team figured they were about due to take tires anyway.
“I did (know about the penalty), but I was listening to Steve (Letarte). We were probably — I did know the rule — but I thought we were probably better off getting tires anyway. We’d proabably serve the penalty and then think about it and let’s go ahead and get tires and try to cycle — because we were about 15 laps away I guess anyway from getting tires, so I don’t know how it would have worked out. But yeah I was pretty aware at that point about that penalty, I’ve had a few of those; speeding on pit road and you can’t take tires — you can’t do anything to your car serving a penalty.”
As a result what started as a promising race, where Earnhardt was battling for a top-five position, turned into a disappointing night — a second consecutive disappointing race — and Earnhardt crossed the finish line in 29th position. It would be easy to shut down, and hang your head, but Earnhardt finds solace in the fact that despite recent troubles his team is actually competitive.
“It has been rough, but we had a really good car tonight. If we’re running bad and having these kind of nights, we’d have a hard time making that Chase. But running good eventually things will turn around for us, we’ll get going. We’ve got a lot of confidence, we’ve got a lot of positive attitude, and I feel like we’ll have no problem rebounding.”
Earnhardt, the point leader just two races ago, now finds himself sixth in the championship standings. If he and Steve Letarte can’t right the ship quickly, things could get out of hand for a team that early in the year looked to be a model of consistency.