The 2014 season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been extremely hit or miss. Monday's race was a huge miss.
After waiting nearly 24 hours to get out on the track at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt went through 10 laps under yellow before wrecking less than three laps later after running into the grass infield.
The No. 88 car was the first off the track, which resulted in a 43rd-place finish, his first outside of the top 25 this season. Here's a look at the wreck from NASCAR.com:
Luckily for Junior, his results through the first six races kept him at sixth in points. Along with the fact that he has already earned a win and essentially solidified a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a total of four top-three results means that the pressure is off for Earnhardt.
Here's a look at the Sprint Cup standings, the No. 88 car's results and news for the Hendrick Motorsports driver heading into the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|6||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||228||1||4||4|
|Duck Commader 500||Texas Motor Speedway||19||43|
|STP 500||Martinsville Speedway||26||3|
|Auto Club 400||Auto Club Speedway||15||12|
|Food City 500||Bristol Motor Speedway||14||24|
|Kobalt 400||Las Vegas Motor Speedway||14||2|
|The Profit on CNBC 500||Phoenix International Raceway||5||2|
|Daytona 500||Daytona International Speedway||9||1|
After a visit to the top five at Martinsville, it appeared the No. 88 car was back on track at the top of the standings and contending for wins.
But the result Monday was a setback that disappointed fans hoping the see Junior visit Victory Lane at Texas after a rain delay on Sunday. Marty Smith of ESPN provides commentary from Earnhardt following his visit to the garage after the Lap 13 crash:
.@DaleJr: "I just didn't know I was that close to the grass. I made a mistake."— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) April 7, 2014
.@DaleJr said the way the A-Post lines up in these cars it's hard to see out at the particular angle that the grass was located.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) April 7, 2014
Earnhardt also spoke about the wreck following the race on his Twitter account:
That wasn't fun. Sorry 2 the fans of the 88 team. Feel bad for my guys and the 48 team also. Made a mistake there that was costly for every1— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) April 7, 2014
Junior's car went up in flames, but the driver was able to escape before suffering any serious injuries. The wreck also affected teammate Jimmie Johnson, who had his window caved in and finished 25th as a result.
Sunoco Racing gives a look at the National Guard machine as it was hauled off to the garage:
But it wasn't all bad news for Junior on the weekend. Though he wasn't able to pull off a win in the Sprint Cup series, JR Motorsports continued its reign of dominance over the Nationwide Series during the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of 1988 Winston Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, became the second-youngest driver to win a race when he took the checkered flag in just his seventh start in the Nationwide Series.
With the win, Elliott sits at the top of the points standings in Nationwide with teammate Regan Smith, who won the first race of the season at Daytona, just behind him in second. Earnhardt spoke about his team and Elliott's early success, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News:
It’s not often we are going to run four cars. But it sure was a good feeling to qualify well and race well with all four of them. We’ve got tons of people working real hard trying to improve, and it’s starting to show.
Chase is a great driver. I’m not surprised by his success. He’s with a great team. ... Regan and those guys worked really hard to get that team to where it (was) last year and Chase jumped right into a good little deal there. He’s got to be excited about that.
(Smith) stays pretty composed regardless of what is happening around him. ... If you’re looking for a guy who is going to be around for a long time that is going to make you proud to be a fan, Chase is that guy.
Elliott pulled off the victory over his owner, as Junior wound up posting a fifth-place finish in the Nationwide race. In fact, all four JRM drivers, including Kevin Harvick (fourth) and Smith (seventh) took top-10 finishes away from Texas on Saturday night.
The exuberant owner joined Elliott in Victory Lane, as NASCAR points out:
Earnhardt now leaves the bad feelings of a last-place result at Texas and heads to a track infamously known as "Too Tough to Tame." But in his Darlington career, Junior has tamed the track a few times, though he's never pulled off a win.
Here's a look at Earnhardt's results at the South Carolina speedway:
|Wins||Top 5||Top 10||Avg. Finish||Avg. Running Pos.||Driver Rating||Quality Passes|
|0||3||8||14.9||12.2 (eighth)||91.4 (10th)||273 (fifth)|
Heading to a track where Junior has experienced plenty of success could help wash away the taste from his Texas finish, and might also put the No. 88 team back in the top five in the standings.
When the checkered flag waves on Saturday night, expect Junior to once again be near the top of the pack if he can keep a clean car—which is easier said than done at Darlington.
Predicted Finish: 6th
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter.