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.”