Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway would be the “turning point” for his NASCAR Cup season.
Instead, Earnhardt said the No. 88 team is continuing to dig “ourselves one hell of a hole with this points situation.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver shared his thoughts about his 34th place finish on Periscope a few hours after the race.
Earnhardt entered the event looking for his first top 10 of the season and he had the car to do it. Despite an average running spot of 14.5, Earnhardt was in the top 10 multiple times, even running in sixth at the end of the second stage.
But the team’s race unraveled multiple times before evaporating in radiator steam.
“Really disappointed today about how we finished because we definitely had a car that should have run in the top five,” Earnhardt said. “Haven’t been really that disappointed about where we finished before this season because we finished about where we should have. But this one sucks because anytime I finish where I don’t think I should have, I feel we didn’t do the job we should have done.”
The first dent in his day came on Lap 124 when Earnhardt went spinning down the backstretch as a result of contact with Ryan Blaney. Earnhardt’s car wasn’t damaged in the accident and he continued.
“I guess coming off Turn 4 at one point I squeezed (Blaney) into the wall,” Earnhardt said. “And I thought I about wrecked myself, because he about turned me into the fence. So I guess he got pretty pissed off about that. We come up off of Turn 2 and I spun the tires and had the car kind of sideways and he just kind of finished me off. He didn’t do me any favors there.
“Happy we didn’t hit anything when that happen. That would have pissed me off if we had hit something.”
It was the latest dust-up between the two drivers after they got into each other at Phoenix and Blaney cursed out Earnhardt on his scanner, which was highly publicized during the following week.
On Sunday night after the Martinsville affair, Earnhardt didn’t feel like talking to Blaney.
“Before I knew it, we were back in the top 15,” said Earnhardt, who picked up five stage points at the end of Stage 2 on Lap 260. “We had a fast car and it was fun as hell to drive.”
But that would be his high point.
During pit stops on Lap 394, Earnhardt and Aric Almirola were caught speeding on pit road, which sent them to the back of the pack.
“Everything was going decent until I sped on pit road and got ourselves back in the pack,” Earnhardt said. “I guess I can take a little bit of the blame for me getting torn up there at the end because we wouldn’t have been back there if we hadn’t sped.”
The No. 88 was torn up and Earnhardt’s day ended on Lap 418. That’s when a seven-car crash broke out in Turns 3 and 4. As cars ahead of him began getting collected, Earnhardt drove into back of teammate Kasey Kahne. The rear bumper of Kahne’s car broke through Earnhardt’s front end and “cracked” his radiator, causing a geyser of steam and an unrepairable car.
It also relegated Earnhardt to 25th in the points standings. He has 17 stage points heading to the last race before the Easter break, at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’m glad we’ve got some speed,” Earnhardt said. “It gives me a little more confidence going into the next several weeks. We have dug ourselves one hell of a hole with this points situation with the way we’ve been finishing. We have to get our crap together. It starts this weekend, hopefully we get to Texas and get us a good run, damn.
“A little frustrating for sure. Martinsville’s a track I look forward to … I hate that I’m going to have to wait so long to get back there.”