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Engine Failure Derails Junior's Chase Opener at Chicago

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 9/16/2013

Race: Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Weather: Rain Delayed, 59 degrees
Race Winner: Matt Kenseth
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 35th
Dale Jr.’s Chase Standing: 13th (-53)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. opened the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with a 35th-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway after suffering an engine failure. The finish drops Earnhardt to 13th in the standings after the first of 10 Chase races.

Following a rain delay of more than an hour, Earnhardt took the green flag 18th and quickly asserted himself as a contender moving up six positions to 12th by a NASCAR-mandated competition caution at lap 30. Crew chief Steve Letarte utilized a two-tire strategy, like the No. 88 duo tried in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, to vault the Time Warner Cable Chevrolet to third. Earnhardt settled into the lead group of cars running seventh for a stretch of the race lasting until rain halted the race at lap 109.

The ensuing rain delay, lasting more than five hours, proved to be a major factor in the second of half of the 267-lap event. Instead of being run during daytime hours, the race now took on a different look under the lights at the 1.5-mile speedway.

After restarting, Earnhardt quickly assumed a position racing inside the top 10. Through altering four-tire and two-tire pit strategies, Earnhardt found himself 12th when a caution flew at lap 167 for debris. Letarte made the call to give the No. 88 gas only when the field hit pit road but trouble ensued. As Earnhardt exited pit road, Dave Blaney’s No. 7 car caused a logjam on pit road stacking up several cars in front of Earnhardt. The ensuing stack up saw Earnhardt make heavy contact with teammate Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 car. Despite several trips to pit road for damage repair, Earnhardt’s No. 88 was never the same, spending much of the next stint mired in 25th.

Earnhardt’s night ended early when his car’s engine seemingly detonated on the front straightaway at lap 225 sending smoke flying and the No. 88 spinning.

The No. 88 team now stands 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings trailing overall leader Matt Kenseth by 53 points heading into next Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We had a car we were pretty happy with and you know just thought we were going to have a pretty good night. I don’t know what was going on on pit road there but we knocked the front end off of it on pit road. Those guys all stopped on pit road in front of us. We were trying to get that fixed. We still had a chance to get that fixed and get the downforce back in the front. We cut the grill all up and the downforce was gone and we lost a lap there. We were going to get that patched up and maybe be able to make something out of it, but something broke there in the motor. It’s tough. It’s going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind.”

Chicago Race Report
Start 18th
Finish 35th
Laps Completed (Led) 224 of 267 (2)
Standings (from leader) 13th (-53)
Condition Out (Engine)


After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +3 Kevin Harvick 5043 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 5042 -1
3 -2 Denny Hamlin 5037 -6
4 -2 Joey Logano 5028 -15
5 -- Brad Keselowski 2361 -2682
6 -- Jeff Gordon 2348 -2695
7 -- Matt Kenseth 2334 -2709
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Carl Edwards 2288 -2755
10 -2 Kyle Busch 2285 -2758
11 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2274 -2769
12 +2 Kurt Busch 2263 -2780
Full Standings