NASCAR & Auto Racing

Earnhardt Jr.'s Friday adds to challenge for 88 team

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Friday was most decidedly not Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s day at Talladega Superspeedway.

After losing an engine during the first of two Sprint Cup practices for the Amp Energy 500, Earnhardt Jr. had his right-rear tire explode in Turn 4 in the early minutes of the final practice to set off a wreck that sent his and at least three other teams scurrying to get backup cars ready for Saturday's qualifying at this 2.66-mile track.

"It just came out of nowhere," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The tire just seemed to come apart between the tread and the sidewall. ...Chances are we ran over something. It's rare that a tire is just going to come apart on you for no reason."

The tire blew sheet metal away from the No. 88 Chevrolet and sent Earnhardt Jr. spinning in front of a pack of traffic.

David Gilliland, running directly behind Earnhardt Jr., was immediately collected.

"It was wild," Gilliland said. "Junior just blew a tire. I was behind him and there was no rub or explosion or anything. It just all happened really fast and I had nowhere to go. It's just Talladega."

Gilliland's team also broke out his backup Ford, and Kasey Kahne went to a backup No. 9 Dodge. David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer, who wrecked as everyone tried to slow down once things got started, also will be in backups.

Tony Stewart's Toyota was also damaged, but his team went to work repairing its primary car.

"We were all so close," Stewart said. "That is one of the risks of practice. ...There wasn't anything he (Earnhardt Jr.) could do and there wasn't anything anybody else could do."

Except for Earnhardt Jr., all of the cars involved in the wreck will be able to start Sunday's race where they qualify Saturday. By NASCAR rule, however, Earnhardt Jr. will have to start at the rear because of the engine change he made after the first session.

"It has been a tough day," Earnhardt Jr. admitted after getting in a couple of laps on the backup car just before the final practice ended. Since this is an impound race, those laps plus his two in Saturday's qualifying are the only laps he'll have on this car here this weekend before Sunday's green flag.

"I am not too worried about it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've had troubles here before and came back and did OK. ...It's definitely easier for the team to handle things like this at this track. If you tear up a car in the final practice at Charlotte or somewhere like that if would be a whole lot worse."

Earnhardt Jr. comes to Talladega trailing leader Carl Edwards by 190 points in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, so he needs to have the kind of fortune this weekend he once enjoyed here. Beginning with the fall race in 2001, he won four straight races here and then, after a pair of runner-up finishes, won again in the fall of 2004.

In the seven races here since that streak, though, Earnhardt Jr. has finished 15th, 40th, 31st, 23rd, seventh, 40th and 10th.

Earnhardt Jr. said he hopes his team will work together to make Saturday and Sunday better days.

"If everybody over there trying to get the backup car ready is hollering and cussing at each other, it won't work," he said. "That can push you apart and at the end of the day you end up ticked off at one another and you have to work those things out.

"But we got the car back out and got to practice, which was a mental victory. We're where we were this morning when we unloaded, so I feel like we'll definitely be stronger and tougher mentally because of what happened today."

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