Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s luck with random in-race woes didn’t get any better Sunday at Watkins Glen.
Hell, Junior’s car didn’t even make it to the second stage of the race.
Late in the first 20-lap stage, Junior’s car was off the pace and the engine started to sound funny. His team took a look at it when the stage was complete and sure enough, the affliction was fatal. A terminal valve train issue cropped up and Junior didn’t even get a chance to make a lap in the second and third stages.
If it was any consolation — likely not — Junior said the team had been looking for speed all weekend. He started 30th and didn’t make much progress through the field before his car started to slow.
“I hope they figure out exactly what went wrong,” Junior said. “Got on all the data, and everything looked good so it is just a failure. The car hasn’t been all that great all weekend. We struggled with it. The guys changed everything on the car overnight twice now. Have done a lot of work. Made some small gains, but nothing like what we need.”
Through 22 races in 2017, Junior has four top-10 finishes. After finishing 37th (and last) on Sunday, Junior now has finished 30th or worse in nine races. His last top 10 came in June at Sonoma where he finished 12th.
With just four races until NASCAR’s playoffs, a victory to qualify for the 16-driver field feels more and more like a longshot with every passing week. Junior likely recognizes this; he admitted Saturday that his team needs to find more speed to contend for wins.
And as the team’s struggles are basically doubling its successes in 2017, Junior said the team must pull together, though he doesn’t think morale will suffer because of the poor finishes.
“We’re a pretty close group,” Junior said. “I don’t anticipate the challenges and adversity we are facing to be detrimental to our team going forward. We have to be able to deal with stuff like this. This is racing and you are going to have to go through these kind of days. It has been a difficult year, but I’ve have more challenging times for sure. I still feel like we will have some things to be proud of before the end of the season.”
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