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

5 Comments

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.