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NASCAR notebook: Earnhardt suffers sixth blown engine

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The feel-good story of the season vanished in a fountain of smoke on Lap 136 of Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the crowd to its feet when he surged to the lead on Lap 31 and stayed ...

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The feel-good story of the season vanished in a fountain of smoke on Lap 136 of Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the crowd to its feet when he surged to the lead on Lap 31 and stayed there until Lap 58. But his hopes of winning for the sixth time at the 2.66-mile track ended on Lap 136 when his engine exploded on the frontstretch, the sixth time this season Earnhardt has retired from a race with engine failure.

The race also closed the book on the tenure of Earnhardt's cousin and crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Eury planned to begin work at Hendrick Motorsports after the Talladega race to pave the wave for Earnhardt's transition to HMS at the end of the season.

Earnhardt's troubles weren't unique. The majority of drivers using the R07 Chevrolet engines developed in the DEI-Richard Childress Racing joint venture had issues. Chase drivers Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr. blew motors before Earnhardt did, but it was Earnhardt's elimination that sent shock waves through the crowd.

"It's the end of an era," Earnhardt said ruefully. "It's kind of sad, because it would have meant a lot for me and him (Eury) to get a victory this season and celebrate together with all of the guys and the people we've been with for so many years. I know and they know we all put our heart and soul into everything we could to try to get that win, but it wasn't meant to be.

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"I had a good enough car. I like leading laps, and (the fans) like that, too. I'd look in the stands as I'd go by, and they'd be cheering. I get excited about that. I just try to keep it up front as much as I can, because that's what they come to see -- at least my fans do. So we were trying really hard. We just had a failure there in the motor."

Newman decries Gordon's lounge act

If his strategic run at the back of the field frustrated race winner Jeff Gordon, it more than irritated fifth-place finisher Ryan Newman, who ran with the lead pack for most of the race.

"It was crazy," Newman said. "I think the racing was not very good. I think the racing was disappointing. To see single-file racing, and the guy that wins the race is sitting in the back all day just lounging around. That's not racing to me. I hope it wasn't what NASCAR intended with this car (the Car of Tomorrow).

"I'm not complaining about the car, because the old car did relatively the same thing. We've got to do something where we can race a little bit. I mean, I was driving around with one hand, running 15th just riding, on and off the gas. It's not racing. If we're going to do that, why don't we just make it a 100-mile race, and we'll tear them all up in the first 50."

Grand gesture from Villeneuve

Though he had qualified sixth for Sunday's race, Jacques Villeneuve dropped to the back before the start of Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 -- out of respect to his fellow competitors.

"We decided to do it this morning," said Villeneuve, the former Formula One and Indianapolis 500 champion who finished 21st in his Cup debut. "It was the logical thing to do. Our car was set up for qualifying, and we didn't know how it was going to handle.

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"Starting from the front or the back doesn't really change anything. I had more to learn from the back, anyway. Also, it was to show respect to all the guys fighting for the Chase. I was thankful to them for allowing me to race here, which is very special to me. It was just a way of saying, 'Thank you.' "

Though he had to fight through a succession of problems -- a tight racecar, contact with the wall, a shifter ball that fell off, a disconnected radio plug and the loss of third gear on the final restart -- Villeneuve managed to finish on the lead lap, without causing problems for his fellow drivers.

"The finger was being pointed at me before the race, and that was understandable," Villeneuve said. "The goal today was to stay out of trouble and not make enemies, so next time I come back, everything will be a little easier. Also, I worked great with the crew and the spotter. Overall, it was a great experience."

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