Earnhardt exits Brickyard early after chain-reaction crash
SPEEDWAY, Ind. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a fast, competitive race car on Sunday, a rare occurrence in his star-crossed last full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
And for once, Earnhardt was enjoying himself behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
But Earnhardt's hopes for a strong finish in what is likely to be his final race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to an abrupt and jarring end just short of the halfway point in Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.
After a restart on Lap 76 of a scheduled 160, the field checked up in front of Earnhardt, and his car couldn't avoid slamming into the back of Trevor Bayne's Ford.
The wreck was terminal, and a disappointed Earnhardt pulled into the garage.
"There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping, and it was a chain reaction, and we got into the back of the No. 6 (Bayne)," Earnhardt said. "I guess they were all kind of running into each other, and it just knocked the radiator out of it. We hit the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing, and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.
"But we had a great car, and I was having a lot of fun. The car was fast. We had a top-10 car, for sure. It's kind of frustrating, because I was really enjoying being out there. Hopefully, our luck's going to turn around. It's been pretty tough, and this is a difficult one to put up with."
RESTART WRECK ELIMINATES THE TWO FASTEST CARS
For most of Sunday's race, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had been cooperative combatants.
After all, they were the clear class of the field in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.
Under a gentlemen's agreement arranged between drivers, crew chiefs and spotters, Busch or Truex would restart in the outside lane as the race leader, and whichever of the two was on the bottom lane would hold up the low line to make sure the leader could clear the field through the first and second corners.
The arrangement worked well until Lap 111, when the teams decided it was time to race for the win, with neither wanting to sacrifice track position. Truex, then the leader, chose the bottom lane for a restart, putting Busch on the outside.
As they raced side-by-side for the lead through the first corner, Truex's No. 78 Toyota got loose, nicked the apron and slid sideways into Busch's No. 18 Toyota. Both cars were destroyed, with Truex's No. 78 erupting into flames as it sat against the outside wall.
Truex escaped without injury.
"I just got loose and wrecked him - totally my fault," Truex said. "Didn't really know what to expect in that position, and didn't really realize that he was going to drive in that deep and suck me around. I will take the blame for that, and obviously it was my fault.
"I hate it for Kyle. He had a great car and we did as well, but that's racing. Glad I was able to get out-fire was bad. I had no brakes and I had to run into the wall a second time just to get it to stop so I could get out. Fortunately, I'm okay and we'll live to race another day."
For Busch, whose winless streak extended to 36 races, it was another disappointment in a litany of frustrating outcomes.
"I guess we could have continued to play the teammate game and try to settle it on a green flag pit stop, but he could be that much faster than me and 'yard' me by three seconds on a run with the clean air," said Busch, who led a race-high 87 laps in an attempt to win the Brickyard 400 for the third straight time. "Then I would never be able to get the opportunity to pass him back even if we had to settle it on a pit stop.
"That's the way it goes. Just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by. It's very frustrating, and I hate it for my guys. They build such fast Toyota Camrys and the Skittles Camry was really good again today. Had wanted to go out there and put ourselves in the record books for three in a row-but not happening."
TREVOR BAYNE COMES TANTALIZINGLY CLOSE TO VICTORY
Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne had a realistic chance to win for the first time since his stunning triumph in the 2011 Daytona 500.
With 11 laps left in Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, Bayne was running third behind Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, but those two drivers were running short on fuel, and pit stops were imminent.
Bayne had enough gas to go the distance. The suspense lay in whether Matt Kenseth, on new tires, would be able to make up an 11 -second deficit over the final 11 laps and overtake Bayne for the lead.
But those calculations became moot when a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch brought out the 10th caution of the race on Lap 150 and negated Bayne's fuel strategy. After pit stops, his hopes for a strong finish disappeared in a frontstretch crash moments after the first overtime restart.
"I was kissing the bricks in my head," Bayne said of his state of mind before the Lap 150 caution. "I know it's a long way to go, but really we had a big enough lead, and I was saving fuel and really making good lap times. A lot of times you watch Kyle Busch and he lifts early here and makes good lap times, so I studied that this week and it really paid off. But with fuel strategy you save and you're going pretty fast and saving the tires and we had a huge lead over the 20 (Kenseth).
"He was coming, but I think I could have held him off. Man, you don't really get many opportunities for strategy like that to play out, and it was, but when the caution came out, I might have bent my steering wheel a little bit, and then after that the one on the frontstretch you're like, 'What a day.'
"It's just really frustrating. We're waiting on a break. We've been running really well, and we want to get those results for everybody."
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---