Earnhardt makes early exit in final trip around Watkins Glen

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Perhaps it was only fitting that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on a road course would come to an abrupt and abbreviated end.

The engine in Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet expired after 22 laps of Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International, bringing a merciful end to a weekend in which Earnhardt and his team searched in vain for a semblance of speed in the car.

“We had a problem with the valve train, and we can’t fix it,” Earnhardt said after taking the car to the garage. “It’s been a really difficult week. We’ve been way down on speed, and we had a pretty good car at Sonoma (in June), so I was kind of looking forward to coming here.

“But, the guys worked really hard. We changed this car inside and out twice this weekend. And we had made it better, and we were kind of hanging in there. I think we had a shot at maybe a top 20 at best. But man, we showed up and we were about four seconds off.”

Set to retire from Monster Energy Series racing at the end of the season, Earnhardt tried to put the best face on his early exit and last-place finish—but had difficulty doing so.

“It is no more disappointing than any other race that you don’t run good in,” he said. “But we have some more events the rest of the year. We were having a good time out there, trying to enjoy myself even though the car wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be.

“Still trying to enjoy it, knowing it is the last trip. So I’m a little disappointed I can’t be out there competing and making all the laps. That’s all you really want these last several races is to be out there and finishing.”

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.