It's home sweet home for the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., this is going down as “the most frustrating season of my career.”
With 66 starts for Hendrick Motorsports under his belt since joining the team in 2008, Earnhardt, Jr. has an average finish of 18.25, seven DNFs, and just one victory. The No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet also failed to make the Chase this season, and sat 22nd in points before the start of the NASCAR Banking 500.
In the first two practices of the weekend, Earnhardt, Jr. put up solid practice speeds, finishing the sessions before qualifying in 13th and 16th—and then going out to qualify a dismal 39th, while his three other HMS teammates qualified in the top ten.
“Last night we were top-15 in practice, and we went out to try to qualify, and we were one of the worst cars here,” he said. “We don’t know why or have any answer for it. All the other [Hendrick] cars qualified fine and did well, backed their times up from practice, and we didn’t even get close.
We looked ridiculous last night. It’s like really encouraging one day, and then the next day it’s equally discouraging, and that gets really old. I’m about to the end of my rope on it.”
Earnhardt, Jr. struggled early on with the handling on his car, complaining of handling problems as he and the No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet ran near the back of the pack.
Battling up and down the top 30 all night long, the communication between Earnhardt, Jr. and his crew chief—or lack there of—didn't help matters much.
“It has nothing to do with touching the gas, get that out of your mind. When I get down in the corner, it's feeling free, but it's very tolerable,” a disgruntled driver yelled over the radio under the night's third caution.
The No. 88 crew would make adjustments to their Chevrolet all night long, but it was to no avail. Earnhardt, Jr. continued to run in the back of the pack, and on lap 107 was lapped by leader Denny Hamlin.
On lap 125 Earnhardt, Jr. was sent to the garage after his car couldn't hold fourth gear, and remained there until lap 155—29 laps down.
The bad luck just will not leave Earnhardt, Jr., with questions surrounding his crew chief's status-- and questions of his long term future at Hendrick Motorsports.
He ended his disappointing night in 38th place, 30 laps behind the leaders.
Earnhardt, Jr.'s other three teammates finished first, fourth and 16th. Earnhardt, Jr. is still 22nd in points.