Late Wreck Ends Earnhardt's Day Early at Martinsville

Mike Davis | JR Motorsports | 4/2/2017

Axalta Dale Jr. Martinsville NASCAR News

A wreck collected Dale Earnhardt Jr. and five other drivers just 82 laps from the end of Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, sending the No. 88 Axalta team home early with a 34th-place finish.

Race: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Track Specs: Half-mile oval / 500 laps
Weather: Sunny
Race winner: Brad Keselowski
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 34th

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- A wreck that started with Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick collected Dale Earnhardt Jr. and five other drivers just 82 laps from the end of Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, sending the No. 88 Axalta team home early with a 34th-place finish.

Racing on the inside of Patrick’s Chevrolet, Hamlin’s Toyota wheel-hopped as the group entered turn three of the tight half-mile oval, causing him to lose control and send Patrick into the wall. That bottled up everyone behind. Kasey Kahne piled into Trevor Bayne, and Earnhardt into Kahne. The contact knocked out the radiator of Earnhardt’s Axalta Chevrolet – work that requires far more time than NASCAR’s new five-minute rule allows. The DNF was Earnhardt’s second of the season and first since the season-opening Daytona 500.

“We got bottled up in (turn) three, and there’s no bumper on these cars,” said Earnhardt. “It knocked the radiator right out of it. With those new rules, we were done. I was happy with the speed of the car, and I was having a good time. I’m just really disappointed with the way we’re finishing. We’ve got to finish better than this.”

Because of a pit road speeding penalty 24 laps prior, Earnhardt was running in 17th position when the wreck happened. Prior to the speeding penalty he was in ninth.

“(NASCAR) said (I was speeding) in the stage right after the pit stall. I must’ve got a good launch out of there, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with John Force too much, because I don’t know how you speed in that little segment coming out of the pit box, but it got us in the back.”

Had Junior made it back to the front following his speeding penalty, it wouldn’t have been his first march through the field. He started 21st and raced his way into seventh before contact with Ryan Blaney turned the 88 car just before the end of stage one. He finished the stage 24th.

“No more free beer for him,” Earnhardt quipped on the radio regarding Blaney, his neighbor.

Earnhardt rallied in second stage to finish sixth, giving him points for the finish. He took advantage of the alternate pit strategy caused by the accident – pitting for fresh tires after the spin and therefore staying on the track when most of the field pulled off for service at the end of the first stage. Junior restarted fifth and raced in the top-10 for much of the ensuing 200 laps.

Brad Keselowski won the race to become the first repeat winner of 2017. Kyle Busch finished second followed by Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.

“I love this place,” said Earnhardt. “I had a lot of fun today. The car was really good. Greg (Ives) and the guys made some changes last night, and that made our car way better. That’s why to come out of here with this finish is just really disappointing.”