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.”
MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.
Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
- 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish
Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.
While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.
Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.
Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.
In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.