Earnhardt and Truex suffer late misfortunes at Chicagoland

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and DEI teammate Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be on the way to strong finishes at Chicagoland. Then misfortune struck, writes Rupen Fofaria.

Updated: July 15, 2007, 10:34 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was headed for a top-10, perhaps a top-5. Martin Truex Jr. looked to make it two strong finishes for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. duo. Alas, in quick succession, DEI's hopes for a banner day were dashed.

"We run good every week," Earnhardt said. "We just have bad luck."

Earnhardt and Co. were riding high -- figuratively and literally. The team had just gotten him out of the pits third on lap 202 with a 13.4-second stop. Then, coming out of a turn shortly thereafter, Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevy flinched and he started dropping through the field like an anchor in water. He radioed to his team that he had lost his power steering.

He managed to steady himself at the cusp of falling out of the top 10 and hung around the top dozen for much of the remainder of the afternoon. On the final pit stop, though, his team tried to fix the power steering and the car was parked on pit road for nearly a minute.

Earnhardt finished 19th.

"We had a really good car and the Bud team had a real good pit stop there that put us in third place there near the end of the race," said Earnhardt, whose issues left him relatively unscathed.

He remained 12th in the standings and his cushion from the next driver back dropped only by 19 points.

"We had a power-steering pump lock up and I can't drive and keep up like that. We did the best we could. But [crew chief Tony Eury Jr.] said to just make the best you can out of it and we did."

Dale Earnhardt jr
Joe Robbins/US PresswireDale Earnhardt Jr. had to wrestle with the loss of power steering in his car.

Almost immediately after Earnhardt's difficulties presented themselves, Truex started to see smoke in his cockpit. He quickly dashed off the track and onto pit road, acting before speaking and almost catching his pit crew off guard. The team hustled, though, and with the car just behind the pit wall they tried their best to salvage the rig, which had lost a cylinder in the engine.

"The car was real good," Truex said. "We lost some track position earlier. We were running second there for awhile. A bunch of guys got two new tires and we got hung back in traffic but we were getting our car better and we were getting spots one by one and we were up to eighth right there.

"We were getting the car better; it was looking good for us."

Truex finished 39th and dropped from 10th to 11th in the standings.

"It's frustrating," he said.

Rupen Fofaria has covered NASCAR for ESPN.com since 2002. He can be reached at rupenisracin@yahoo.com.