Jimmie Johnson didn’t see Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With a car that struggled to crack the top 10, Junior and his team were attempting an off-strategy inside the last 100 laps of Sunday’s race at Richmond. As most of the field pitted, Junior did not and he was riding in second place, hoping for a caution to come out so he could keep his newfound track position.
The caution came out. But Junior was involved in it. As he drove off the exit of turn 2 on lap 343, Earnhardt Jr. found himself between his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the outside wall. After using the inside line in turns 1 and 2, Johnson drifted up into the outside lane on the backstretch, completely unaware that Junior was to his right.
“I just have to try to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me,” Johnson said. “I just feel terrible, obviously. Man, I’m surprised our cars even kept rolling after that because I just body slammed him into the wall and I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know, but that’s the last thing you want to have happen with a teammate.”
Junior’s car limped along for a bit before the caution finally flew for his flat right tire.
“He had pitted and got tires and we were out there running around the top and weren’t ready to pit yet,” Junior said. “He said he didn’t get any notice that he had a car outside. He was coming to pass me. I was running the top right against the fence and really wasn’t watching the mirror, so I didn’t know he was there or anybody was coming. [Spotter TJ Majors] was giving me pretty good warning about guys getting on my inside, but otherwise when you are running the top you don’t have to worry about it everybody kind of takes care of you, but Jimmie didn’t know we were there.”
Sunday’s race was the first for Junior since announcing that he would retire at the end of the 2017 season. He fought a car that wouldn’t handle properly until he was sandwiched between Johnson and Richmond’s outer barrier and then spun out because of a continuing tire rub on lap 356 after the race restarted.
Yeah, it was a bad day. And one that followed a familiar theme for Junior. He’s been caught up in wrecks that weren’t of his own doing at Daytona and Martinsville and an oil line issue led to a crash last week at Bristol. You can view the attempt at a different strategy at Richmond as one to get a good finish on Sunday as well as one to reverse the bad mojo that’s plagued Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup Series season.
It didn’t work. He finished 30th.
“Obviously, we were trying a pretty wild strategy staying out,” Junior said. “I was pretty comfortable it was going to work because our lap times were pretty decent and everybody else was coming to us that had pitted. So, it wasn’t going to be too bad. Just terrible luck. I don’t know what to do. But, we were probably going to finish anywhere around 10th to 15th today, not all that awesome, but we just had such terrible luck.”
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