TALLADEGA, Ala. – When Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. decided to merge engine departments, this was the kind of day they were hoping to avoid.
All three RCR cars and all four DEI cars were outfitted with a new common Chevrolet engine produced by Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technologies for Sunday’s UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
By the end of the race only one car – the No. 07 of Clint Bowyer – made it to the finish unscathed.
The cars of Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola and Jeff Burton all suffered similar engine failures during the race. Paul Menard was involved in an accident and Kevin Harvick was able to make it to the finish despite running on seven cylinders.
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Bowyer was able to escape any problems and finished 11th. He remains third in the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings, 63 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.
Asked what he was thinking when he found out his teammates were experiencing engine problems, Bowyer said, “Oh no!”
“You’re the last car to be out there. We were just conservative on everything,” he said. “I knew we were conservative on the gear and the tape on the nose,” Bowyer said.
“We did the best we could just trying to run (the engine) cool and it paid off.”
Bowyer’s crew chief, Gil Martin, said he decided to stick with a conservative engine package for the race.
“We didn’t lean on the motor, which was evident in qualifying. We didn’t lean on it hardly at all just because we knew we had to finish this race to be in contention to win this championship,” he said.
Burton’s was the first car to experience an engine problem. When Truex Jr. joined him in the garage with a similar problem, RCR and DEI officials feared the worst. Earnhardt Jr. was next to arrive, followed by Almirola.
“Richard (Childress) and Ritchie (Gilmore) built the engines and they are doing all they can. They are all the same, so you have to be nervous about the others,” said Steve Hmiel, DEI’s competition director.
“You don’t want to have anything go wrong, but you hope that your program is consistent enough where you say if one breaks, there’s a good chance we’ll break them all.
“You’re not happy about it, but it shows everybody is getting the same stuff.”
Burton’s 43rd-place finish dropped him to last place in the Chase standings, 336 behind the leader and virtually out of contention for his first series title. Truex dropped to 10th in the standings and Harvick remains fifth.
“Obviously, this about wraps it up for us for the championship. We will keep fighting,” Burton said. “We will go next week and strap our boots on and go fight and see what we can make out of it.”