A week after finishing outside the top 10 for the first time all year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was working his way towards the front of the field during Saturday night's NRA 500 when his race went awry.
Junior was running third when the main battery on his car started to fail. Without power, Junior elected to take his car to his pit thinking that something else was amiss. But when he got to his stall, he and his team deduced that it was a battery issue and Junior could have switched his car's power supply to the backup battery from the driver's seat.
"We just had a battery go dead and didn't diagnosis it correctly to just switch it," Junior said. "We have two batteries in there we have a switch in the driver’s seat that goes from one to two. I didn't know it was a battery until we got down on pit road and I got to looking at the gauges and really understanding."
Then things got worse from there. Because he was without power coming down pit road, Junior didn't have a working tachometer and was clocked for speeding. Then, while serving his pass-through penalty for the speeding penalty, crew chief Steve Letarte wanted to go ahead and change tires on Junior's car. That's against NASCAR rules, so that drew another penalty.
"At that point we had lost a couple of laps. I couldn't control my speed on pit road because the motor was not running coming on. So we sped there and we came down pit road to serve the penalty but Steve wanted to get tires. You can't get tires serving a penalty so we had to come back and then serve the penalty," Junior said.
When that sequence was mercifully over, Earnhardt Jr. was five laps down and his chances for a good finish were as kaput as his main battery.
"All the gauges just went haywire and so I couldn't read the gauges to really diagnose what was happening, but once you start to think about it you are like, 'Well if all the gauges are going bad we have electrical issues'," Junior said.
"Then you go right to the battery. The thing quit running going into three and I couldn't stay on the track if it wasn't the battery we would have stopped on the track and lost all those laps. I came down pit road, sped, no motor, no tach, figured out by the time I got to the pit stall it was the battery. We changed the switch over to battery two, get fired up, take off, come down pit road change tires, came down pit road serve the penalty and that was the night."
Last week at Martinsville, Junior was spun after contact from Danica Patrick and Brian Vickers and ended up 24th, losing the points lead to teammate Jimmie Johnson. After Texas, he's now fourth in the standings, 35 points behind Johnson.
"It has been rough, but we had a really good car tonight," Junior said. "If we were running bad and having these kinds of nights we would have a hard time making that Chase, but running good eventually things will turn back around for us. We will get going. We have a lot of confidence. We've got a lot of positive attitude and feel like we will have no problem rebounding."