TALLADEGA, Ala. – A forgettable day for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway included an unforgettably terrifying moment Sunday.
Earnhardt was 46 laps down after an earlier crash and riding last in a repaired No. 88 Chevrolet in hopes of gaining another spot when Carl Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota shot up the banking into Earnhardt’s car, apparently because of a suspension failure.
After slamming into the outside wall, Earnhardt’s steering wheel somehow got detached. The Hendrick Motorsports driver removed the wheel and piloted the car with his steering column onto the straightaway when he was able to reattach the wheel.
“The steering wheel came off and I was trying to get it back on and the car was headed toward the wall,” he told Fox Sports. “Well, I wasn’t going to let it hit the wall so I grabbed the column and steered it with that. Tore my hands all up but didn’t hit the wall.
“We have to look at something to keep that from happening anymore. We were just out there riding around and something broke on the No. 19 and (Edwards) came over and got into us. We just had no luck this weekend.”
It was the second incident involving a steering wheel and a Hendrick team this season. In qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway, Jimmie Johnson took the blame for crashing after failing to attach his wheel properly.
It also marked the second time this week that a steering wheel was in the news in NASCAR. Nick Sandler, crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., missed this weekend at Talladega, serving a one-race suspension for a steering wheel mechanism that failed inspection at Richmond last week.
Earnhardt, who had lost control of his car in an earlier crash, finished last and declared the season-worst 40th as likely the final ride for his beloved “Amelia” car.
“Hell, I’m going home,” he said. “I’m done. We need to park the car for a while, too.”