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

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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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Gabby Chaves to sub for Joao Barbosa at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

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Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.

The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.

Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.

“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”

Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”

Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.

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