Explosive engine failure puts Dale Jr. in early Chase hole (VIDEO)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hopes of becoming a Sprint Cup champion took a major hit out of the gate last night at Chicagoland Speedway, where things turned bad for him and then got much worse.

Earnhardt was plugging along in 12th when the caution came out on Lap 167 for debris. He subsequently came down to pit road under yellow, but congestion on pit road created a stack-up in which Earnhardt run into the back of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.

The damage left behind effectively ruined the competitiveness of Earnhardt’s car, and he was logging laps in mid-pack when on Lap 225, the engine blew in dramatic fashion.

Earnhardt was able to get out of the car once it came to a stop, but, like Joey Logano (who also had his own engine failure), he’ll now have to continue on in the Chase with no margin for error if he wants to truly contend for the title.

“I don’t know what was going on on pit road there, but we knocked the front end off of it on pit road,” Earnhardt said about his night. “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.”

Earnhardt now finds himself dead last in the 13-driver Chase field at 53 points behind leader and Chicagoland winner Matt Kenseth.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”