TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't caught up in the "big one" at Talladega Superspeedway, but he was involved in two wrecks that ended his race well before the finish Sunday.
Earnhardt spun without any help in a crash 50 laps into the race. Just 14 laps after Earnhardt's car returned, Carl Edwards had a part break on his car, sending him spinning and collecting Earnhardt, whose car briefly caught fire.
Earnhardt avoided another potential crash when under caution after he returned to the track, he was told to check his steering wheel. He did and it popped off the shaft. He was able to get it back on before the race went green.
Earnhardt said he physically felt "good," but he headed home with a last-place finish (40th) in the Geico 500.
"It's been a terrible day," he said.
It could have been worse.
"The steering wheel came off and I was trying to get it back on and the car was headed toward the wall," Earnhardt said. "Well, I wasn't going to let it hit the wall, so I grabbed the column and steered it with that -- tore my hands all up, but didn't hit the wall.
"We have to look at something to keep that from happening anymore."
Earnhardt took the blame for the steering wheel issue in a pair of tweets Monday morning.
My steering wheel came off during a caution yesterday. I take full responsibility for not making sure it was connected properly beforehand..— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 2, 2016
There was no issue with the wheel or coupler. This is just a rare case of being in too big a hurry to return to the action...— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 2, 2016
On the first wreck, Earnhardt's team had made some adjustments on a pit stop just prior to the accident, as Earnhardt wasn't happy with the handling of the car. He had trouble keeping the front end from dragging on the racing surface.
The car just snapped without warning on Earnhardt, who also collected Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.
"I'd have caught it if I would have been warned," Earnhardt said. "I tried to save it. ... I couldn't get it back. It was going, I saw it going and I was like, 'Oh damn.'"
Earnhardt said the team experienced similar issues in the season opener at Daytona, a similar track to Talladega.
"We've just go to look at our adjustments a little bit different," Earnhardt said.
He later tweeted that the stumble won't slow down the team.
I feel bad for our team and supporters that we didn't capitalize on a great opportunity to run well today. Some days your the bug.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 1, 2016
Appreciate my guys for repairing the car to get us back out there. I wouldn't have done anything differently there. You gotta keep grinding.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 1, 2016
We understand why our car wasn't running as we expected from the get go. Im confident we will have a faster hot rod for @DISupdates in July.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 1, 2016
As far as the second wreck, Edwards said he was unsure what broke, but it likely was damage from contact earlier in the race.
"We had something torn up and drove into Turn 1 and I just felt the right front [of the car] fall down and that was it -- you're kind of just along for the ride," Edwards said.