A battery failure quickly became much worse for Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose bid to win last night’s NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway turned into his worst result of the Sprint Cup season.
Earnhardt was running third until Lap 187, when he brought his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the pits for an unscheduled stop due to a loss of power. After switching to the back-up battery, he returned to the track only to be hit with a pass-through penalty for speeding onto pit road by NASCAR; Earnhardt’s gauges were off as he was entering the pits, making him unable to determine how fast he was going.
However, his crew chief, Steve Letarte, decided to give his driver fresh tires on his return to the pits. That’s not allowable per the NASCAR rulebook, which says all drivers that earn a pass-through penalty must go all the way down pit road without stopping. That forced a third trip for Earnhardt to the pits, and by the time it was over, NASCAR’s most popular driver was five laps down in 35th.
“All the gauges just went haywire and so I couldn’t read the gauges to really diagnosis what was happening,” said Earnhardt, who gained one of his laps back before finishing 29th. “But once you start to think about it, you are like, ‘Well, if all the gauges are going bad, we have electrical issues.’ Then you go right to the battery. The thing quit running going into (Turn) 3 and I couldn’t stay on the track if it wasn’t the battery — we would have stopped on the track and lost all those laps.
“I came down pit road, sped, no motor, no [tachometer]… Figured out by the time I got to the pit stall, it was the battery. We changed the switch over to battery two, get fired up, take off, come down pit road and change tires, came down pit road and serve the penalty, and that was the night.”