Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Sonoma race didn’t have a great start.
On lap 14, Junior went to pass Danica Patrick entering turn 11 and his car snapped loose as he dove to the inside line. He skidded through the paved inside part of the corner before sliding to a stop in the middle of the corner where Patrick had nowhere to go before running into him.
16 laps later, he was in another crash that involved Patrick too. As Earnhardt Jr., Larson and Patrick were three-wide entering turn 4, Patrick, who was on the outside, got spun around. She then got slammed into by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who didn’t have time to avoid her car.
The wreck ended Stenhouse’s race, but Patrick and Earnhardt Jr. were able to carry on. Thanks to some pit strategy, Earnhardt made a pit stop late in the second stage and restarted the third and final stage near the front. After the final stage’s 56 laps went caution-free, Junior got back the track position he lost by making his final pit stop under green and finished sixth.
After the race, Earnhardt Jr. was given some incredibly awkward questions by Fox pit reporter Matt Yocum. Sunday’s race was the final race of Fox’s 2017 television schedule and, possibly, the final Cup race the network would broadcast that included Earnhardt Jr. as he’s retiring at the end of the season.
So Junior was asked to reflect back on his career (and his seven wins that were televised on Fox) despite a final season that still has 20 races left.
“I think the wins and everything, are great,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I enjoyed celebrating those. But, long after your career; guys come along and win races and some of your accomplishments on the track sort of get forgotten. But, who you are as a person never gets forgotten. People never forget who you were. I hope people just thought I was good and honest and represented the sport well. I hope people that work with me enjoyed working with me, whether it was in the Late Model ranks or whatever; and I hope the guys I raced against enjoyed racing with me. That’s really all that will matter. And, what people I think will remember, is always you’re alive and beyond. Hopefully I left a good impression. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Patrick, meanwhile, finished 19th. She was as high as fourth in the final stage of the race but that was because she hadn’t made her final pit stop while others ahead of her had.
“It’s just a lot of people dive-bombing, and it’s part of what makes road-course racing exciting in a stock car because you don’t climb wheels. You just bump fenders,” Patrick told ESPN after the race.
“It just wasn’t the day we expected to have today. Someday, though, it will go the other way. … At least we took off competitive when everything was all squared off.”
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