Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had as much success at Talladega Superspeedway as anywhere on the NASCAR circuit.
That wasn’t the case Sunday in the Geico 500.
Earnhardt crashed twice and even temporarily lost the use of his steering wheel on his way to an early exit and eventual 40th – and last – place finish.
Earnhardt’s steering wheel popped out of the steering column during one caution period. His in-car camera showed him briefly steering his No. 88 Chevy by grabbing and turning the column before replacing the wheel.
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“Yeah, the steering wheel came off, and I was trying to get it back on, and the car was headed toward the wall,” said Earnhardt, who has six career victories at Talladega’s 2.66-mile layout. “Well, I wasn’t going to let it hit the wall, so I grabbed the column and steered it with that. Tore my hands all up but didn’t hit the wall.”
It wasn’t the first time a Hendrick Motorsports driver has had steering-wheel problems this season. Jimmie Johnson’s steering wheel popped out of the column during qualifying at Phoenix in March. Johnson took responsibility for that, saying he hadn’t checked that the wheel was locked into the column before heading out onto the track.
“We have to look at something to keep that from happening anymore,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt’s problems started on Lap 49, when he lost control coming off Turn 2 and spun.
“Just got loose,” Earnhardt said. “I got in a bad spot with the wind.”
That accident also collected Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto. They all three would return to the race but several laps down.
On Lap 110, Carl Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota careened into Earnhardt, sending both into the wall and ending both their days.
“We had something torn up there,” said Edwards, who saw a two-race winning streak come to an end. “The biggest thing is just something just let go there, and you hate to collect anybody, so definitely sorry to the 88 (Earnhardt) guys for getting their car involved in that. I just felt the right front fall down, and that was it. You’re kind of just along for the ride.”
Earnhardt had won four of six races over a 13-month period in “Amelia,” the nickname for the car he brought to Talladega. But Amelia will get a rest.
“I’m going home,” Earnhardt said. “I’m done. We need to park the car for a while, too.”