Blown engines a concern for DEI as Chase looms

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before anybody begins screaming conspiracy theory, Teresa Earnhardt has not spent the past two months sabotaging the engines of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But Earnhardt's engine woes -- he's lost five this season and three in the last seven races to make him a spectator in the Chase for the Nextel Cup -- are a concern.

Not so much for Earnhardt, but for teammate Martin Truex Jr. as he begins his first title run 50 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

"You are always concerned when you lose an engine, but we don't feel the problems that we have experienced are something that will have an effect on our program as we head into the Chase," said Richie Gilmore, who oversees the engine program at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex has experienced only two engine failures this season, none in the last seven races as he's registered six finishes of 15th or better.

Earnhardt has had as many engine failures the past seven races as he had the past four years combined.

"They seem to come apart when they plug them into my car," said Earnhardt, who lost only eight engines during his first seven seasons in Cup. "It's really frustrating."

NASCAR's most popular driver doesn't believe his failures are the result of somebody taking chances to generate more power and get him into the Chase.

"I would be surprised if I turned into the guinea pig over the last five weeks," he said. "I don't think that's what happened. I'm hoping it was a two-dollar part, small stuff out of everybody's control."

Gilmore said it's been a different problem almost every time.

"There has not been one systematic underlying issue," he said. "For instance, last weekend we lost an oil pump belt off the No. 8 car. That's one of those things that just happens.

"You hate to dismiss it like that, but something came up and knocked it off. It's not a bad part or anything that you would need to be concerned with heading into this weekend for any of our cars."

Earnhardt's problems aside, Gilmore has been pleased with the power of the engines that are a product of a recent alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

He reminded that Earnhardt was running in the top five of most of the races before the engine blew.

"We've had some really good power at the track and we are excited about what we have been able to do with the engine merger between ourselves and RCR," he said. "Next week at Dover we will have R-07 engines in all of the cars, so that is a big step for us.

"At Talladega we'll have our first true combination of DEI/RCR engines that have been built by a combined effort by our departments working under the same roof, so we are making some really big strides in the right direction."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.