FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up with his first last-place finish in seven seasons Monday after driving his car into the rain-saturated infield grass before it shot across the track and slammed into the wall in a fiery crash.
Earnhardt, who was OK after climbing out of the burning No. 88 Chevrolet, took the blame for the accident that happened when he was following Aric Almirola down the frontstretch in the rain-delayed Sprint Cup race.
“You can’t run through there the way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. I just didn’t know I was that close to the grass, and made a mistake,” he said. “It tears a car up pretty good when you run through the grass.”
Jimmie Johnson had damage on the windshield and front left of his No. 48 car from mud and debris after the crash by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Johnson was three laps down by time he got back in the race after his team worked on the car. Johnson also had an issue with a right-side tire.
Kevin Harvick completed only 28 laps before a blown engine knocked him out of the race.
“Something happened with the engine right after that restart,” Harvick said. “It’s frustrating. I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong.”
The race started with 10 caution laps Monday to make sure the track was dry and suitable for racing. There had been only three laps under full green conditions when Earnhardt, the points leader, drove into the grass. About half of his car was off the asphalt before pushing hard right and across the track.
“Just didn’t see the grass. Didn’t know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can’t really see that good to that angle,” Earnhardt said.
The accident guaranteed a 43rd-place finish for Earnhardt. He hadn’t finished last in the field since the 2007 fall race at Phoenix, a span of 222 races. The new rules in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship puts increased emphasis on wins, but Earnhardt already has four top-three finishes this season, including a win at Daytona.