CUP: Engine Change Drops Junior Through Field

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start the Chase from a deep hole.

Earnhardt Jr. qualified fourth Saturday for Sunday’s GEICO 400, the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but a minor miscue at the end of that time-trial run cost him.

He over-revved his engine as he popped the car out of gear after crossing the finish line to complete his second qualifying lap, and that resulted in a bent valve.

The Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 team changed the engine in the car – primarily as a precaution. NASCAR rules require teams who make an engine change during the weekend to start at the rear of the field, so Junior will start from the back Sunday in Chase Race One.

It’s not a death sentence, as the length of the race and the numerous pit strategies that are likely to result are likely to provide plenty of opportunities for Earnhardt Jr. to advance through the field.

“I don’t think we are super concerned,” said crew chief Steve Letarte. “We had a great car in practice and qualified really well, so we showed we have good speed. Fortunately, this is a race track where there are multiple pit strategies, and it’s not a really simple straightforward pit strategy to call.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.