NASCAR's most popular driver saw a promising effort disappear when he cut a tire and scraped the right side of his No. 88 car up against the outside wall. Earnhardt led 20 laps at the track where he's claimed his two most recent victories in the Sprint Cup Series, but Sunday limped home 36th after spending an extensive amount of time in the garage while his vehicle underwent repairs.
Although Earnhardt dropped only one spot to seventh in the standings as a result of the incident, his margin to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup has shrunk to 20 points over 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Earnhardt also does not have a race victory that would help his case for as Wild Card berth, should he need to rely on one to make the playoff.
"There are guys in worse positions than us," he said. "We ain't got to outrun just one guy. There's a lot of guys. And all of them have got to have clean races, just like we do. I think we'll be all right. We're not an 11th-place team. We're a top-five team. We're consistent. We're more consistent than most. We've just got to shake this luck, whatever is going on. It's something different every time. We've got good speed, and we've just got to keep our head up and keep working hard, and things will be all right."
It was the second consecutive Michigan disappointment for Earnhardt, who in June lost an engine while leading the race. It's also been a tough couple of races for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, who finished 30th last week on the road course at Watkins Glen. After finishing fifth at Pocono, he was fifth in the standings and in the Chase by 62 points. After last Sunday, he was sixth and his margin was 47 points.
"It's a competitive sport, and we've got some good teams behind us," Earnhardt said. "We are not sitting here with everybody in the distance. It's just a little closer than we would like it to be, but it's still 20 points is 20 points. That is half a race, a little more than that, so we got three to go. We should be all right. If we keep having bad luck, we can't do nothing about that."
That's how he classified Sunday, when Earnhardt said he had a slow leak in his right-front tire that he wasn't aware of -- until he applied the brake in Turn 2, and it blew with 65 laps remaining. A few other drivers also dealt with tire issues at Michigan, something Goodyear said was due to high temperatures.
Tire issues are nothing new at Hendrick, which has had more than its share this season. Jimmie Johnson and Kahne had tires go down at Michigan in June, Jeff Gordon and Johnson suffered failures at Bristol, and the No. 48 team also dealt with a blowout two weeks ago at Pocono. As far as tires are concerned, a big, high-speed track like Michigan can prove especially vexing.
"Our company had trouble last time with this tire at this race, and we paid close attention to it all weekend, and felt like we were extra careful," Earnhardt said. "They want to put the responsibility on ourselves, but we did everything we thought we could do to ensure this kind of thing wouldn't happen today. It's just unfortunate that we've had this kind of bad luck. But we'll be all right. We'll keep running good. Three races to go, we keep running like we're supposed to ? we'll be fine."
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