Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s relationship with the shifter in his car isn’t a very good one at the moment.
Friday, Earnhardt Jr. blew the engine in his No. 88 car after he accidentally shifted into second gear instead of fourth gear. After his team changed the engine, Junior had a fresh engine to start Sunday’s race from the rear of the field.
And he accidentally shifted into second gear again 59 laps into Sunday’s 160-lap race. Once again, the mis-shift over-revved the engine and killed it, ending Junior’s race.
“The shifter is not different, the handle is not different, the location, everything is the same,” Junior said after he coasted his car to the garage. I don’t know. It’s something about my motion that’s not — going in the wrong gear. I wish I could blame it on something else, because this is awful, it feels awful. The car was fast.”
Pocono is one of the few tracks on the Cup Series schedule where drivers use multiple gears outside of shifting immediately after a restart. Drivers will shift to third gear in any of Pocono’s three corners to get greater acceleration and potentially pass a driver ahead of them.
But if a driver is accelerating in one gear and accidentally shifts to a gear below, the RPMs in the engine jump too quickly and can ruin the engine.
“It’s just my fault,” Junior said. “I don’t know what else to — I wish I could say that the shifter is different and something is out of line or not something I was doing last year as far as where we had the shifter mounted for Pocono.
“This really concerns me coming back here and the road courses you know. But, we haven’t had any problems all year long, but at places where we do a lot of shifting I don’t know what is going on, what I’ve got to do or why this is really happening out of nowhere. I don’t know… we don’t really have an answer to it other than me just having to pay more attention, but I mean I’ve been doing this all my life and this isn’t a common issue, but it has been this weekend.”
Earnhardt Jr. finished 38th. It’s his sixth finish of 30th or worse through the first 14 races of his final season. Junior announced earlier this year that 2017 would be his final season in the Cup Series. No replacement driver has been announced.
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