Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out of the race not long after he climbed back into the top 10 in Saturday’s Cup Series race at Daytona.
Earnhardt Jr. started first and made up two laps after an early-race flat tire. But his charge to the front abruptly ended as the summit got closer and closer as he got caught up in an accident caused by a flat tire by Kevin Harvick.
Junior was right behind Harvick and had absolutely nowhere to go. He was forced to retire from the race because of the damage his car received. He finished 32nd and officially completed 106 laps.
“We got our laps back and I thought things were going to work out to give us an opportunity to give us a run at the end for the checkers,” Junior said. “[Harvick] turned around there, I think he had a flat tire or something there. I just don’t know where I could have gone or if I could have done anything different.”
Junior had to fight back from multiple laps down because he hit the wall after one of his own tires went flat. Junior felt like he had a tire go down as he entered turn 1, but he couldn’t get out of the way of the cars behind him. After he hit the wall, Junior lost two laps because NASCAR didn’t call a caution and he pitted under green.
“That first deal we brushed the wall a couple of laps earlier and I thought everything was okay,” Junior said. “I came through the tri-oval and I had a right front going down and it was trying to spin out, so I was trying to lift, but there was really nothing I could do because there were so many guys behind me.”
Saturday night was Junior’s final scheduled Cup Series start at Daytona after he announced earlier in the season that 2017 would be his final full-time Cup Series season. While he hasn’t ruled out a potential Daytona 500 run in future years and has Xfinity Series starts scheduled over the next few seasons, Saturday night was his sendoff from a track where he has four points wins and 17 total wins counting exhibition and qualifying races.
He said he wasn’t expecting such fanfare for his last scheduled Daytona start, even though his 2001 win in the July race at Daytona — the first Cup race there after Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in the Daytona 500 — is one of NASCAR’s most fabled moments.
“I just didn’t expect all that attention all week,” Junior said. “My phone buzzing all day long with social media going crazy. Everybody talking about this being my last Daytona race. I hope every weekend isn’t like this as far as that goes. The attention and the reaction from the fans makes me feel great. Hopefully we are able to turn that around and back on them for the rest of the season and thank them for all they had done.”
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