Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s early-race choice was difficult but necessary

After today's victory, Ryan Newman replied back to his crew chief Matt Borland: "You get to drive the tractor."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s early-race choice was difficult but necessary

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Twelve laps into Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt brought his No. 88 Chevrolet SS to pit road.

It was a case of necessity being the mother of prevention.

Inexplicably, Earnhardt had a loose wheel when he started the opening run in the 20th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the year. He had to bring the car to pit road to prevent a disastrous failure. When he left pit road, Earnhardt was a lap down at the tail end of the field.

"I'll tell you, you can't have a wheel come off here," Earnhardt said. "You're running that thing at 200 miles an hour at the end of the straightaway. You don't want to take any chances.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

"We came in. (Crew chief) Steve (Letarte) said it was loose, and it was a good job and a good save."

The early stop put Earnhardt off sequence in the pits, but he persevered and regained track position by staying out under caution when most other drivers came to pit road on Lap 82. Ultimately, he claimed a hard-fought sixth-place finish that solidified his fifth-place position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

But that doesn't mean Earnhardt wasn't worried when his wheel began shaking soon after the opening green flag.

"Yes, a little bit," he confessed. "But it's still a long race, and Steve is a good strategist, and we ended up all right. The car had good speed. We finished about where we should."

Heavy heart

Before the race, Earnhardt learned of the death of his uncle, Randy Earnhardt, brother of his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Randy Earnhardt passed away Sunday at age 60 after a year-long battle against cancer.

"It was really tough," Earnhardt said after the race. "He helped me through a lot of challenges when I was trying to become a race car driver. 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 (Budweiser) car, Randy was always there.

"It's just very, very sad, but I am glad his suffering is over with. He is going to be missed. He was awesome, such an awesome guy. He kept things together (at Dale Earnhardt Inc.). 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…

"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's tough. It's part of life, and it's hard to get used to. I'm just glad his suffering is over with. He was having a real hard time. I loved him dearly and will miss him a lot."

The obvious question

Brickyard winner Ryan Newman and crew chief Matt Borland are an effective pair, as they proved once again in Sunday's race.

Race winner Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet celebrates with team
Race winner Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet celebrates with team

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

Given that Newman has been given his walking papers from Stewart-Haas Racing, effective at the end of the year, will Newman and Borland market themselves as a package deal to a prospective car owner.

When asked about his status at Stewart-Haas, Borland was noncommittal.

"At this point, I'm not sure what next year is going to bring," Borland said. "Right now, 100 percent of my focus and our whole team's focus is on doing as best we can in these next six races (before the Chase field is set) and the next 16."

"Going to open up a fruit stand in Statesville if anybody is interested," Newman joked.

"Do I get to drive the tractor?" Borland asked.

"You get to drive the tractor," Newman said with a smile. "You also get to change the oil in the tractor."

By Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service

shares
comments
Ryan Newman victorious in Brickyard 400
Previous article

Ryan Newman victorious in Brickyard 400

Next article

Despite tight handling condition, Bayne qualifies 28th at Indy

Despite tight handling condition, Bayne qualifies 28th at Indy
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021