CONCORD, N.C. | It may have been somewhat fitting that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his National Guard team seemingly took Monday off.
After all, it was Memorial Day.
Earnhardt, mired in a season-long slump that even has car owner Rick Hendrick scratching his head, had his worst showing of the year at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt ran near the back of the pack most of the afternoon and finished 40th in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600, his worst showing since he was 41st in last season's finale at Homestead. He was two laps down when the race was called because of intermittent showers.
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It was Earnhardt's third consecutive finish outside the top 25, and he's been 20th or worse five times in the last six Sprint Cup events. His previous worst finish this year was 39th at California.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammates have been considerably better. Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson has seven top-10 finishes, Jeff Gordon has one more that and Mark Martin has two wins in the last five weeks.
They were better Monday, too.
Johnson ran up front all day, but wound up 13th because of the final red-flag situation. Gordon finished 14th in what he called a "horrendous" car, and Martin was three spots further behind after falling way back after being penalized for losing a tire on pit road.
Each passed Earnhardt not once, but twice.
His No. 88 Chevrolet was so bad that after several unsuccessful attempts to get the car straightened out, he seemingly conceded over the radio.
"Since I'm getting lapped so much, help me get out of their way," he told spotter T.J. Majors. "Just do that."
Earnhardt joined Hendrick before the 2007 season in what was arguably the biggest free-agent move in NASCAR history, and many believed getting the sport's most popular driver in the sport's best equipment would land Junior in Victory Lane as often as Johnson and Gordon.
It hasn't happened.
He won once last season, at Michigan in June, but has been pretty much mediocre in the 33 races since. He's finished outside the top 20 a telling 14 times during that stretch.
Some believe the problems have started to get in Earnhardt's head. Hendrick even said recently that he was looking for new ways to get the team turned around. He said there had been several meetings and tons of information sharing with his other teams in hopes of finding some solutions.
Nothing worked Monday.
Earnhardt started 27th and was at the back of the field after 100 laps. He was too loose early, fighting to stay off the wall, then too tight a bit later.
"We're gonna try a bunch of stuff here," crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said just before one pit stop.
It had to be a strange feeling for Earnhardt to be so far back at this track, the place where he made his Cup debut in 1999. He entered the race with nine top-10 finishes in 19 Cup starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway and another five top-10s in 10 Nationwide Series starts here.
After Earnhardt's final pit stop, he sounded like someone who would have been glad to see the race called just past the halfway point.
"I guess this is the best it's gonna be," he said.