Earnhardt exits Brickyard early after chain-reaction crash

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 23: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, drives on the apron after an incident during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a fast, competitive race car on Sunday, a rare occurrence in his star-crossed last full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

And for once, Earnhardt was enjoying himself behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

But Earnhardt’s hopes for a strong finish in what is likely to be his final race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to an abrupt and jarring end just short of the halfway point in Sunday’s Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.

After a restart on Lap 76 of a scheduled 160, the field checked up in front of Earnhardt, and his car couldn’t avoid slamming into the back of Trevor Bayne’s Ford.

The wreck was terminal, and a disappointed Earnhardt pulled into the garage.

“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping, and it was a chain reaction, and we got into the back of the No. 6 (Bayne),” Earnhardt said. “I guess they were all kind of running into each other, and it just knocked the radiator out of it. We hit the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing, and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.

“But we had a great car, and I was having a lot of fun. The car was fast. We had a top-10 car, for sure. It’s kind of frustrating, because I was really enjoying being out there. Hopefully, our luck’s going to turn around. It’s been pretty tough, and this is a difficult one to put up with.”