Dale Earnhardt Jr. had more than one obstacle to overcome Sunday while racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Despite starting 15th Earnhardt was moving his way forward shortly after the green flag fell. On lap 13 however disaster struck as Earnhardt called his crew and told them he felt a loose wheel on the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. Crew chief Steve Letarte called him in and the crew changed all four tires. Earnhardt found himself a lap down and in last place.
“I knew it was loose,” Earnhardt said. “The car was shaking real bad, and wandering in the back-end on the straightaway. You have a wheel falling off; you have something serious happening. Come in, it’s dangerous staying out there. You can hit the wall, or wreck something, or wreck some other people. I don’t want to do that.”
Earnhardt said he wasn’t worried thought.
“It is a long race,” he said. “We had an early chance to fix that, and that is fine. It gave us an opportunity to try some different strategies.”
Those strategies included leaving Earnhardt out on more than one occasion to gain track position. But in the end, Earnhardt was able to rally back and finish on the lead lap in sixth place.
“Steve is a good strategist, and we ended up all right,” Earnhardt said. “The car had good speed; we finished about where we should.”
View slideshow: NASCAR at the Brickyard, July 28, 2013
He added that the checkered flag fell at the right time.
“We were either running out of gas, or had a little bit of an engine problem the last two or three laps,” Earnhardt said. “I almost lost another spot. But the car just quit running at the end. I don’t know if it was out of fuel or what. But the fuel pressure was good.”
Loose wheels and pit strategy weren’t the only challenges Earnhardt faced. NASCAR’s most popular driver, who lost his father on a last lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, learned Sunday morning that his dad’s brother, his uncle Randy, had lost a yearlong battle with cancer.
“It was really tough. He helped me through a lot of challenges when I was trying to become a race car driver,” Earnhardt said. “He was there when I started driving late models. I went through the whole process of racing with Tony (Eury, Sr.) and all of them through the Bud car. Randy was always there. I hurt for Mamaw and Randy’s brother and sister, Danny, Kaye and Cathy. “
“It is just very, very sad, but I am glad his suffering is over with,” he added. “He is going to be missed. He was awesome, such an awesome guy. He kept things together (at DEI). He was in charge of a lot of different things. Mainly in charge of where every nut and bolt was. He was accountable for everything. After the racing after I left and everything kind of went away, he stuck around. He was loyal to Dad, and really looked after everything that was there and that was my Father’s and what would have been important to him as far as material things. Randy really looked after that. It is tough. It is part of life, and it is hard to get used to. I am just glad his suffering is over with; he was having a real hard time. I loved him dearly, and will miss him a lot.”
For more NASCAR News and NASCAR Commentary, follow me on Twitter and Facebook or visit CupScene.com.