Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his night end early at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started the NASCAR Sprint Cup Irwin Tools Night race in 20th and was working his way to the front and generally holding his own. But on lap 160 Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were dueling for the lead when it all came crashing down.
Harvick slid up exiting turn 4 and got into Hamlin who was leading at the time. Harvick was able to race away; Hamlin however wasn’t as lucky. Hamlin’s Toyota careened into the inside wall and shot back up the track. Earnhardt running just inside the top 10 went high but was unable to avoid Hamlin; Earnhardt clipped the front of Hamlin’s Toyota ripping off the driver’s side of his Chevy.
The Hamlin and Harvick tangle mirrored an incident the two had in last year’s race that left both driver’s upset with each other.
"Last year he (Kevin Harvick) was just not paying attention and he didn't know that I had a cut tire,” Hamlin said Saturday night. “He just thinks he knows everything and probably thought he knew everything again. I just wish I had some kind of car left so I could show him the favor back. We're not even halfway, we're racing for the lead -- it's a misjudgment. He's a good driver. He knows better, he just made a mistake."
Earnhardt took his damaged Chevy to pit road, but the damage was too much and he was soon in the garage. Earnhardt went to his hauler while the crew repaired the car. They were able to get the Chevy back out, but over 100 laps down. Earnhardt made only a couple of laps before parking for the night.
“I couldn’t see what happened to Denny (Hamlin),” Earnhardt said. “But he got turned around or something and was coming up the track. There was a lot of smoke so I couldn’t really judge the speed of his car to know whether I needed to be going up there and go around him on the top. I had to make that choice. I just went ahead and went to the top and ended up getting into him. It wasn’t too hard of a hit just did a lot of damage and tore the lower (control arm) off the left-front.”
It marked only the second DNF for Earnhardt this season.
“I really hate we wrecked,” Earnhardt Tweeted later. “Racing @BMSupdates is frustrating but at the same time it's the funnest racing I get to do. Nothing compares.”
At the end of the night, he was scored 39th and leaves Bristol still second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings as the series heads to Atlanta.
“We had a damn good car tonight,” Earnhardt Tweeted.” Real fast. Bristol was rough on us this year. Brand new car next week @amsupdates. We are ready.”