Somber-looking Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 10th-place finish just isn’t good enough anymore

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like he had just gone through the roughest workout of his career.

When TNT cameras caught up with him after his 10th-place finish in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt’s face was not only red, he seemed short of breath, looked significantly frustrated and exasperated – and appeared almost on the verge of tears.

Which is odd because with his 10th-place finish, Junior officially clinched his berth for the upcoming revamped and expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“That was frustrating,” Earnhardt said with a somber look on his face. “That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th-place finish.

“It’s been a real frustrating weekend, to be honest. The guys worked real hard, Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte) and the engineers did their best to get the car more competitive, but just to be lacking that much speed against a lot of guys and I had to drive so perfect every lap, it was just so frustrating.”

With wins in the season-opening Daytona 500 and last month at Pocono, Earnhardt can take solace that there’s no way he can miss the Chase now.

But still, Earnhardt did not take Sunday’s finish easily. It might be because a 10th-place finish in the fall Chase return to New Hampshire very well might not be good enough to advance to the second or third elimination rounds of the 10-race playoff.

“I don’t know, man, I wish we were better,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to have to come back here (in the fall Chase race) and run better to have a shot at the Chase. But, we’ll keep working. Tenth-place: I’m really disappointed.”

At the same time, Earnhardt’s demeanor and appearance said a lot about how far he’s come and how much he’s grown this season as a Sprint Cup driver.

Whereas in many of his previous 14 Sprint Cup seasons, he’d have been happy to have just finished in the top 15 or 20.

But if he’s not contending for a win now, it’s simply not good enough for Junior.

“I remember when we used to like these (10th-place finishes),” Earnhardt said.

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NHRA Gatornationals: John Force has another spectacular motor explosion

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force endured yet another spectacular motor explosion – his third in the NHRA’s first three national event races – during Friday’s qualifying at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

It’s the kind of consistency the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ could do without.

The 68-year-old Force came to Gainesville hoping to break the jinx that saw him endure explosions in both the season-opening Winternationals and the second race of the season in Phoenix.

Both motor explosions sent Force to the hospital for examination before he returned to the race track.

Friday, even though the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro blew up again (in the second round of qualifying), at least this time, Force didn’t wind up in the hospital.

He did have his right hand bandaged from a cut suffered in the explosion, but did not have to go to the hospital this time.

He even joked about not having to add yet another ambulance bill to the nearest Gainesville hospital.

But the explosion still proved costly.

“That was another body and that hurts the financial (bottomline),” Force said. “I was out $500,000 to $600,000, and now we are probably out $800,000, going on a million. In drag racing, you have to be tough.”

He ended the day qualifying 14th, not a very comfortable position with two more rounds of qualifying set for Saturday.

Force continues to be mystified why the motors keep exploding.

“I really thought we had it, I thought we were there,” Force said. “In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”

Force will attempt to improve his qualifying spot during Saturday’s final two rounds to make Sunday’s eliminations.

Follow @JerryBonkowski