FORT WORTH, Texas — For some drivers Monday, it didn’t pay to have a fast car.
Before the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was 14 laps old, Dale Earnhardt Jr. slid into the frontstretch grass and shot up the track and into the outside wall.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet briefly caught fire, but he was unhurt. What was hurt was any chance he had to win the race and continue another week as the Sprint Cup Series points leader.
“Just didn’t see the grass. Didn’t know the grass was down there,” said Earnhardt, who was credited with a 43rd-place finish. “With the way the A-post is on these cars you can’t really see that good to that angle.
“I just didn’t have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. Just a mistake on my part.”
Earnhardt’s dive into the wet and muddy infield grass sent debris flying on the car behind him – the No. 48 Chevrolet of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson was forced to make several pit stops under the caution to clear his car of debris, but it suffered a collapsed windshield brace that hindered him the remainder of the race.
Because of the repairs, Johnson fell two laps down. He ended up one lap down and finished 25th.
Only 28 laps into the race, Kevin Harvick – who had yet another car fast all weekend – suddenly slowed on the track with smoke billowing from the back of his No. 4 Chevrolet.
Harvick eventually drove back to the garage, where crew chief Rodney Childers found something had dislodged the oil pump belt. Harvick was credited with a 42nd-place finish.
“Something happened with the engine right after that restart. It’s frustrating,” Harvick said. “I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong.
“Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage. That’s a disappointing end to the day.”
He clearly was not alone on this day.