On a scorching 93-degree afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed an opportunity to pull off a rare feat.
Only seven of the 126 drivers who have won two or more races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series have won their first and last races at the same track. Earnhardt won his first Cup race in 2000 at Texas. He was seeking his first checkered flag since November 2015.
Earnhardt started the AAA Texas 500 17th and remained in the 15-20 range for most of the afternoon. But before he could make any type of move, his car was forced into the garage during the middle of the third stage with a mechanical failure.
He returned but finished 34th.
Earnhardt told NBC Sports that he burned the left front hub.
“The car’s ran about 14th, 11th to 20th all weekend in all the practices and everything. ...We’ve got to get a little bit better to beat some of them guys up there, but I was having a good time.”
Before Sunday, the No. 88 car was enjoying its best stretch of the season. In the last five races, Earnhardt posted had three top-10 finishes, and didn’t finish lower than 12th.
Earnhardt was inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at TMS during a Saturday afternoon luncheon. He recorded one victory, seven top-five finishes and 18 top 10s at Texas. Overall, he’s won 26 races and 259 top 10s.
“He’s a very happy guy who is content with his life,” Jimmie Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, told reporters on Friday. “I know that he’s poured his heart and soul into racing, and he’s very proud of what he’s accomplished.”