(UPDATED) Costly mistake for Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Crashes early at Texas, car catches fire; Johnson also has woes


It was a rough start to Monday’s rain-postponed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for Sprint Cup points leader and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Just two laps after the race went green on Lap 11 – due to green/yellow competition caution conditions for the first 10 laps – Earnhardt was heading into turn 1 when his left front tire got into the soggy infield grass.

The front end of Earnhardt’s car sank hard into the grass. The car shot off the grass and abruptly turned to the right and hard into the outside retaqining wall at close to 190 mph.

Compounding the issue was Earnhardt’s car caught fire shortly upon impact. He rolled the car towards the infield and climbed out while track safety personnel extinguished the blaze.

Crew chief Steve Letarte said over the team radio that they were going to evaluate the extent of the damage and see if it would be possible to make repairs and get Earnhardt back on the track.

“Just ran into the grass on the apron on the front straightaway there,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports. “I was following the 43 (Aric Almirola) and just didn’t see the grass, didn’t know the grass was down there that close. I really didn’t have a good visual where the grass was and just got there pretty good, that’s all.

“… It was just a mistake on my part.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson’s car also was damaged when some of the grass kicked up by Earnhardt’s car, as well as some of the tire from the left front tire of Earnhardt’s car slammed into Johnson’s windshield. Johnson was forced to pit three different times in the following 15 laps for repairs to be performed.

Johnson, who won at TMS last fall, suffered additional problems around Lap 42 when his left rear tire blew out, forcing him to pit for a fourth time in the race, leaving him three laps off the lead lap.

Johnson then pitted under the competition yellow caution on Lap 48 for additional repairs, this time to the right rear of his No. 48 Chevrolet.

Casey Mears’ car also suffered similar damage — although not as extensive as what Johnson suffered. He brought his car into the pits for repairs and went back onto the track.

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Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.