Race Weekend Central

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR Return Derailed By Late-Race Fire

A 30th-place finish does not justify how great of a night Dale Earnhardt Jr. had.

Earnhardt made his first of two NASCAR Xfinity Starts this season Friday (Sept. 15) at Bristol Motor Speedway, starting the day by qualifying in a respectable 15th-place.

See also
Justin Allgaier Locks into Round of 8 with Xfinity Win at Bristol

Earnhardt and crew worked on the car, even earning stage points throughout the night – even though they don’t matter for Earnhardt, he managed to take away points from playoff drivers in competition with his JR Motorsports drivers.

At the beginning of stage 3, Earnhardt fans got real rowdy – their favorite driver was leading the race. Earnhardt took the lead after the initial restart, and held the field off after another restart following a spin by Jeremy Clements.

In total, Earnhardt led 47 laps of the 300 lap event. He lost the lead after pitting during the caution for Austin Hill‘s crash with Sheldon Creed, but he found himself fighting for the lead with Daniel Hemric (who used to drive for JRM) and Justin Allgaier (who currently drives for JRM).

Another caution came out with 50 laps to go for Josh Bilicki spinning, at which point Allgaier made a gutsy pit call to pit for fresher tires, handing the lead to Hemric. Suddenly, the battle for the lead between Hemric and Earnhardt soon involved John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer, with Chandler Smith nearly inserting himself into the mix.

Nemechek and Custer managed to pass Earnhardt, as well as Allgaier with his fresh tires. Then with 30 laps to go, Earnhardt came into the pits with a problem.

“I’m on fire,” Earnhardt radioed to his crew.

Earnhardt’s in-car camera confirmed there was a fire inside the car and he threw his window net down and unfastened his seatbelts to get out of the car. He parked his car in front of Nemechek’s pit stall and motioned for the No. 20 team to help him get out of the car.

In a great display of sportsmanship, Nemechek’s crew helped the 48-year-old out of the car. Earnhardt showed his burned firesuit to reporters after the race.

“Somehow or another, the shifter tunnel caught on fire,” Earnhardt told USA Network post-race. “I saw some smoke in the car, and I smelled it and I was like, ‘Hopefully, that’s not me.’

“I saw a big fireball down in the tunnel in the car and obviously I felt it, my uniform was burning up. I was like, ‘I can’t keep going, I’ve got to stop.'”

Earnhardt knew his car was capable of potentially winning, but also knew the importance of trying not to get in the way of the Xfinity playoff drivers.

“I hate it. We were going to finish in the top 10, maybe top five. We had a shot at winning it if the car was going to run good to the end. But trying not to mess nobody’s night up at the same time, so it was hard.”

While his night unfortunately came to an early end, his driver Allgaier won the race – the gutsy pit call paid off. Earnhardt was overall pleased with his night from both a driver and an owner perspective.

“I had a blast,” Earnhardt said. “Checked that box. Justin wins, BRANDT car wins, great for Rick [Brandt, owner of BRANDT Agriculture] and his whole team. We drove up there and led laps – legitimately! I couldn’t believe it, I was like ‘Man what’s going on?'”

Earnhardt will also compete in the Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 21 with sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He is an editor and co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer and dabbles in SRX coverage too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He's a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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