A potentially big day for Dale Earnhardt Jr. has ended with him slamming the wall on Lap 123 while leading the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
An apparent right-front tire failure sent Earnhardt’s No. 88 into the Turn 4 wall and has put him into the garage. He’s now the second Hendrick Motorsports driver to suffer that fate after Jimmie Johnson’s wreck at Lap 84.
“The whole surface of the tire just unwound like a string,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “It just came off the car and it popped off the corner.”
Subsequent pit stops under the yellow ended with Joey Logano, now the race leader, retaining his position at the front. However, pole sitter Kevin Harvick took the lead back off the Lap 128 restart.
At Lap 134 – the halfway point of the Hollywood Casino 400 – Harvick led Logano, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne. However, at Lap 136, Logano had once again passed Harvick to take the lead back.
Harvick led the first 43 laps of the race, but McMurray was carving his way through the field in the meantime from 14th on the grid. “Big Mac” dusted Earnhardt for second at Lap 39 before taking the lead from Harvick at Lap 44.
Shortly after that, a green flag cycle of stops began with McMurray pitting himself at Lap 47. However, he cycled back to the front while Harvick was able to get around Earnhardt for second at Lap 52.
McMurray’s lead ballooned to about three seconds, but Harvick had cut the lead down to one second by Lap 60. Around this point, McMurray reported an apparent vibration on his No. 1 Chevrolet but kept the point and continued to move through lapped traffic until a caution for debris at Lap 70.
The majority of the leaders went for the track position by taking two tires, with McMurray maintaining his lead going in. Meanwhile, Logano dropped from third to 10th after taking four tires – the first 9 drivers out of the pits had taken two tires.
McMurray, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Martin Truex Jr. were the Top 5 when the field resumed green-flag racing at Lap 76. Greg Biffle narrowly kept a disaster from occurring when he was able to collect his car after getting sideways in the pack, while up front, Earnhardt passed both McMurray and Harvick for the lead going into Turn 3.
One lap later, Kurt Busch blew a tire and went hard into the wall in his backup No. 41 (he damaged his primary car during Saturday’s practice sessions), triggering Caution No. 2.
Another incident occurred following the next restart at Lap 83. McMurray and Gordon, after having made apparent contact earlier, were forced to slow up after the latter got loose off Turn 4. The two avoided disaster but caused the field behind them to scatter as they tried to get back up to speed.
Then, seconds later off of Turn 2, Greg Biffle slid up into Johnson and both went spinning, with the defending Sprint Cup champion slamming the inside backstretch wall. The skidding Johnson also got into Justin Allgaier, who was turned around and then eventually collected Josh Wise in Turn 3.
While Johnson hoped to return later in the race and minimize his points damage, the race resumed at Lap 91 with Earnhardt as the leader. His edge over Harvick was up to one second by Lap 100, and it was past two seconds by the time Logano passed Harvick for second at Lap 112.
But at Lap 123, Earnhardt suffered his setback – and the race’s complexion changed again.