Video: NASCAR teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson get together at Richmond
For all the fanfare that Dale Earnhardt Jr. experienced this weekend after announcing his retirement at the end of the season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday at Richmond International Raceway was more of the same for what’s become a frustrating first half.
Earnhardt was involved in a lap 356 incident with teammate Jimmie Johnson that doomed him to a 30th place finish in the Toyota Owners 400.
The ordeal began when Johnson slid up into Earnhardt off the exit of turn two and put his teammate into the wall. The contact cut a tire on the Earnhardt Chevrolet and sent him around in a solo spin. Johnson wasn’t entirely sure what happened.
“I just have to try to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me,” Johnson said. “I just feel terrible, obviously.”
Johnson was surprised he was able to keep going to an 11th place finish.
“Man, I’m surprised our cars even kept rolling after that because I just body slammed him into the wall and I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know, but that’s the last thing you want to have happen with a teammate.”
Earnhardt said Johnson apologized.
“He said he didn’t see us,” Johnson said.
Earnhardt was actually running second at the time, as he and leader Ryan Newman were on a different pit cycle to try to gain track position. The 14-time most popular driver had struggled with the handling of his No. 88 all afternoon and needed a caution to gain track position.
Instead, he was the caution.
“He had pitted and got tires and we were out there running around the top and weren’t ready to pit yet,” Earnhardt said. “He said he didn’t get any notice that he had a car outside. He was coming to pass me. I was running the top right against the fence and really wasn’t watching the mirror, so I didn’t know he was there or anybody was coming.
“TJ (Majors, spotter) was giving me pretty good warning about guys getting on my inside, but otherwise when you are running the top you don’t have to worry about it everybody kind of takes care of you, but Jimmie (Johnson) didn’t know we were there. Came off the corner and didn’t know the car was there. It was an explosion, but the car held up pretty well.”
Earnhardt completed the remainder of the race without a sway bar. He remains 24th in the championship standings as a result of his borderline top-30 finish. He has just one top-10 this season and it was a top 5 at Texas.
“It wasn’t a great day,” Earnhardt said. “We did make a lot of adjustments and that last run I was pretty happy. Obviously, we were trying a pretty wild strategy staying out. I was pretty comfortable it was going to work because our lap times were pretty decent and everybody else was coming to us that had pitted. So, it wasn’t going to be too bad.
“Just terrible luck. I don’t know what to do. But, we were probably going to finish anywhere around 10th to 15th today, not all that awesome, but (sigh) we just had such terrible luck.”