Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked as strong as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates early in last night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but fell back to a 15th-place result as handling issues progressively got worse on his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Earnhardt led 19 laps in the opening stages of his 500th career Sprint Cup start, but a long green-flag run following a restart at Lap 178 proved detrimental as his car went tight on him.
By the time the final caution came out for debris with 28 laps to go, he had been lapped and had also fallen to 14th in the running order.
“The car was real quick at the start of the race and I was real happy with the speed,” Earnhardt said about his night. “The 5 [Kasey Kahne] was really good and the 48 [Jimmie Johnson] got really good, but I still thought we had a Top-5 car. We lost a rubber out of the right-rear spring or something like that, but it just would not turn at all that last half of the race pretty much. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on.
“…The car just don’t get that tight from running that good without any adjustments. We were freeing it up – moving the track bar, taking wedge out and it just kept getting tighter and tighter.”
As a result, Earnhardt dropped one spot to ninth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup (66 points behind Chase leader Matt Kenseth) and now finds himself in a battle to stay in the Top 10 of the standings. Carl Edwards sits 10th at one point behind Earnhardt, while Joey Logano is just nine points behind Earnhardt in 11th place.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.