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.

Weather prompts INDYCAR to move up start time of today’s race in Alabama

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The scheduled starting time for today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park has been moved up due to inclement weather in the Birmingham, Alabama area.

The command to start engines is now scheduled for 3:01 p.m. ET, rather than the previous scheduled start of 3:35 p.m. ET.

In addition, the INDY LIGHTS race, previously scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET, saw its starting time moved up to 11:45 a.m. ET.

According to several different weather forecasts, thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon, with some forecasts calling for up to 100 percent chance of storms.

The rain is expected to continue into the evening and on into Monday.

INDYCAR officials are monitoring the very fluid situation and further schedule adjustments could be made.

We’ll keep readers up to date on further changes here on MotorSportsTalk.