FONTANA, Calif. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun across the track after his engine finally died midway through the Auto Club 500. He got out of the car, shook his head and gave a matador-style bow to the crowd.
Maybe he needed to laugh to keep from crying.
Earnhardt feared the worst Sunday before the start of the California Speedway race. Those fears weren't unfounded.
Before a third of the laps were completed, Earnhardt and teammate Martin Truex Jr. were in the garage with motor failures.
"I was really worried about our motor situation going into this race," Earnhardt said. "We blew two motors at the test in Las Vegas [in January]."
Truex started seventh in the No. 1 Chevy, but finished 41st after billowing smoke out of the car on Lap 14.
Earnhardt's No. 8 Monte Carlo made it a little longer. He started fifth, but the car dropped a cylinder on Lap 64 and he drove it to the garage three laps later.
He returned to the race on Lap 114, but the engine blew completely seven laps later and caused Earnhardt to spin. He exited the car and bowed, as if to say his day was a racing example of a tragic comedy.
"We just have to keep our heads up," said Earnhardt, who finished 40th. "It blew up good the last time. We have to try to figure it out before we get to Vegas [in two weeks]."
Sunday's race was the first time the Cup teams used unleaded fuel, which doesn't have the lubricant qualities of leaded fuel.
Kevin Manion, Truex's crew chief, said the fuel change wasn't the cause of their engine failure. He didn't speculate on the exact cause.
Truex believed he had a car capable of running up front.
"It's just unfortunate," Truex said. "It was a legitimate top-five car, and maybe a winning car. It was running great all weekend. We didn't have any warning, just out of the blue the motor let go."
Truex said something in the DEI engines has changed from last season.
"This is not typical of our engines," he said. "The DEI guys do an awesome job with our motors. We lost one engine all last year. We've had good cars for about the last 25 races and we can't catch a break. It's getting old. I'm sick of it."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.