Atlanta did not go the way we all had hoped for our driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale had a surprisingly good qualifying run that put him 12th to start the race but once the green flag dropped, something seemed a little off. The NO. 88 immediately fell back a few spots to P15 with a seemingly bad handling race car that was just all over the place especially in the middle of the turns. Dale was specifically saying that the 50%-60% mark was where he needed help with more grip.
After falling back to P15, Earnhardt Jr. was able to get it back to P13 by working the top of turns 1 and 2 and the bottom of turns 3 and 4. The first green flag pit stop of the day took place around lap 35 and that’s where his trouble started. Dale was caught for speeding coming into pit road in multiple segments of pit lane so a drive through penalty was assessed. The NO. 88 went a lap down as a result, but thankfully the race was still in its early going and the possibility of recovering with the lucky dog or wave around at the end of the first stage was a possibility … until trouble struck again. While improving his position to P25 and only a few more cars to pass to get into the lucky dog spot, Dale had a tire go down that forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop. This was the nail in the coffin for Dale and the Nationwide team as they were never able to recover; floating around P30 and as far back as P34 and multiple laps down.
Despite being completely out of contention and multiple laps down, Dale did say over the team radio that we was still having a good time and was simply enjoying being back behind the wheel. Better days will come for sure. Sunday was just another one of those days that we have known all too well over the years as Junior fans. Yesterday’s kind of race used to actually get me down and ruin my Sunday’s because I wanted Dale to just simply run well and fight for a win. But after last years serious concussion injury and the possibility looming of him never being able to get back in a race car, we can’t take his competitive days for granted anymore. We must enjoy every race day that he’s healthy and on the racetrack, even when the day goes sour.
Dale tweeted this after the race and I think it solidly summarizes exactly how I feel and how I think we should all feel in Jr. Nation –
It wasn’t the best afternoon, but I’m so happy to be back with these guys here! Win or lose, we stick together. @nationwide88