Hours after losing his uncle to cancer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to overcome an up-and-down day at the Brickyard 400 before taking a sixth-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A loose wheel forced Earnhardt to pit on Lap 12, which sent him all the way down to last on the scoring pylon. Relying on an alternate strategy as a result, he stayed out when the leaders began to pit under green shortly before the first caution of the day came out on Lap 59.
That yellow put him and the No. 88 back in business, and a call by crew chief Steve Letarte to keep Earnhardt out during another caution at Lap 80 wound up sticking him in fourth position for the subsequent restart. He would eventually grab four tires and fuel at Lap 98 during another cycle of green stops, and he would run in the Top 10 for the remainder of the afternoon.
In post-race, Earnhardt made sure to credit Letarte for making their strategy work out after the unexpected early problems.
“It’s his kind of race where he can do some things on pit road and really give us the opportunity to get out front,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “I was really depending on him today and he came through today.”
But despite his final result turning out much better than it could have been, today was still a somber day for Earnhardt and his entire family. In addition to being Junior’s uncle, 60-year-old Randy Earnhardt was the brother of the late seven-time Sprint Cup champion, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller, the co-owner of JR Motorsports and Randy’s niece, tweeted the sad news this morning and asked for “prayers for [their] family.” Ty Norris, a former general manager of Dale Earnhardt Inc., also tweeted condolences – calling Randy his “sounding board at DEI for a decade.”
”It is just very, very sad, but I am glad his suffering is over with,” Junior said according to the Associated Press. “He is going to be missed. He was awesome, such an awesome guy.”