NSCS: Hendrick Motorsports Pit Crew Struggles Cost Earnhardt Jr. Again at Bristol

Kyle Souza Featured, MidSouth, NASCAR 0 Comments

BRISTOL, Tenn. and CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Report by Race Chaser Online New England Correspondent Kyle Souza —  Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo —

It was clear during Sunday evening’s Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not going to give up the fight for glory — even when it got out of reach.

The driver of the No. 88 Mountain Dew DEWSHINE Chevrolet restarted inside the top ten at lap 23 after a long rain delay and drove his way to the bottom end of the top five before a competition caution flew at lap 60 for everyone to regroup.

But what NASCAR served as a blessing was, in reality, only the beginning of Earnhardt’s troubles.

A flat right rear tire shortly after the restart sent Earnhardt Jr. to the pit area under the green flag just before lap 100, forcing him two laps down.

Though the two laps down could arguably have been made up — because Bristol often leads to chaos, cautions, wave-arounds and lucky dog awards — more issues plagued the team shortly after getting back up to speed, quickly thwarting those positive thoughts.

A tire rub and possible loose wheel on the right side following the unscheduled green flag pit stop forced Earnhardt Jr. back to pit road a second time, pinning him four laps down and ruining his chances of a comeback.

Earnhardt Jr. did make up two of the laps he lost by lap 300, but could never get any further forward and ultimately finished 16th.

“A couple loose wheels made our day real tough. We got everything back we could,” the perennial fan favorite said post-race.

But not only did the team struggle at Bristol — pit problems have been the common trend of late for the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 team.

At Texas two weeks ago, the team brought Junior back to the pit area after a stop and sent him to the tail end of the longest line.

“We had a couple lug nuts that didn’t get on the left rear on the first stop, so we had to come back down.  That was real good on our guys to make that call,” he said of the issues at Texas. “When it comes down to NASCAR letting us police these lug nuts, our crew guys need to be up front and honest, and that’s definitely better than the alternative for sure.”

In a Chase format where so much is at stake over three-race stints to close the season, there can be no weak links. For Team 88, the pit crew has to get on top of things for Junior if they want to be in contention for a title during this year’s Chase. In roughly half of the eight races this season, pit road has played a pivotal outcome in winning a race — the first key to qualifying for the playoffs.

The car has been fast, and crew chief (Greg Ives) has been making some great adjustments.

It’s time for the men over the wall to step up.

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