The day after the Toyota Owners 400, the “white elephant in the room” in NASCAR is the accident between teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. that dampened the official start of Earnhardt’s farewell tour.
That’s how Johnson’s spotter, Earl Barban, described the contact with Earnhardt on Lap 344 of Sunday’s Cup race at Richmond International Raceway, which he had to “take some blame for.”
Earnhardt, who was running along the outside wall, was trying to stretch his fuel run in hope of catching a caution.
Johnson was running low as he and Earnhardt exited Turn 2. Johnson’s trajectory sent him into Earnhardt, pinning the No. 88 Chevrolet between Johnson and the wall.
Damage from the accident forced Earnhardt to pit multiple times. He then spun on his own on Lap 357 and finished 30th, two laps down.
“I don’t really know what exactly transpired,” Barban said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “Looked at film and things like that. I’ve looked a bunch of times. I didn’t let (Johnson) know (Earnhardt) was still out there. I’ve definitely got to take some blame for that. Obviously, I’m apologetic to the team and the 88, Dale and the guys. I don’t go out there on purpose to crash my driver or anybody else. If it was something on my side, I have to take some blame for that.”
Johnson said after the race he couldn’t remember hearing Barban warning him to Earnhardt’s presence on his outside. Barban was very apologetic about the incident, which resulted in Earnhardt’s fifth finish of 30th or worse in nine races.
“We were pretty fast and we went underneath there,” Barban said. “Maybe I didn’t let him know soon enough that (Earnhardt) was still outside. There’s enough (blame) to go around for all of us. I’ll take my part of that. Obviously, I’ve been up there 17 years … I have a lot of skin and heart in the game. I try to do the best that I can up there just like everyone else. The guys on pit road. Crew chiefs, engineers, set ups, drivers. We’re all out there to win and do our best. Definitely taking out our teammates was not part of our strategy.”