RICHMOND, Va. – By the time his engine let go with five of 400 laps remaining in Saturday night’s Chevy Rock’n’Roll 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fate had been virtually sealed.
Kevin Harvick was the only driver Earnhardt Jr. still had a mathematical chance of beating to get in the field for the Chase for the Nextel Cup and he also was running in the top-10, just a few positions behind Earnhardt Jr.
The blown engine, which sent Earnhardt Jr. to the garage and left him with a 30th-place finish, proved another sign of the struggles his No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. team has faced this season.
Earnhardt Jr. can’t finish any higher than 13th in points this season and will miss making the Chase field for the second time in its four-year existence.
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“It’s disappointing. We lost another motor tonight. We’ve run good every week, we just can’t finish races,” a dejected Earnhardt Jr. said standing behind his team’s hauler at Richmond International Raceway as race winner Jimmie Johnson celebrated on the track.
“We deserved to be in Chase. We ran top-five almost every week.”
DEI will still be represented in the Chase, as Earnhardt Jr.’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., made the field for the first time.
“This is our first time and we’re really looking forward to it,” Truex Jr. said. “We need to have 10 good weeks. Hopefully, when it all shakes out in Homestead, we’ll be somewhere in the mix.”
Earnhardt Jr.’s absence is especially hard on the program since he and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. will leave at the end of the season to join Hendrick Motorsports.
“It’s a very disappointing day. This is a very resilient team,” said Max Siegel, DEI’s president of global operations. “These guys are professionals. We’re going to focus and figure out what is going wrong.
“We’ll work hard to finish out the season very positive.”
Saturday was the fifth time this season Earnhardt Jr. has blown an engine and the third time in the past seven races. Salvaged around those seven tough weeks have been three finishes of fifth or higher, including a season-best second place finish at Ponoco.