NASCAR Michigan 2013: Dale Earnhardt Jr. loses engine while leading

Will Schneekloth

An engine failure ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bid to win his first NASCAR race since last June.

Pick an expression to describe Superman, and it would be appropriate for much of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s performance Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

He was faster than a speeding bullet, and his Man of Steel-adorned Chevrolet seemed more powerful than a locomotive as it took control of the Quicken Loans 400. From all appearances, Earnhardt looked to be on his way to winning his first NASCAR race in a year.

But like Superman, Earnhardt was beaten by his own type of kryptonite. His came in the form of an engine that initially lost a cylinder and then, shortly thereafter, expired altogether in a ball of smoke.

"There was no warning at all even after I think we lost a cylinder," Earnhardt said after finishing 37th. "The gauges all looked really good. I flipped all the switches I could flip, and nothing was really making a difference. We just had something come apart in the motor."

Earnhardt's misfortune was among the litany of issues that prevented Hendrick Motorsports from winning a race it at times dominated.

It began with Jeff Gordon's wreck just six laps in. This was followed by Kasey Kahne crashing out of the lead just before Earnhardt's engine went sour, and capped off by Jimmie Johnson hitting the wall while running second with two laps remaining. This was the first time since 2005 that Hendrick failed to have a car finish in the top 10.

"That car was just flying at the end there," Earnhardt said. "... I'm just real proud of my team. I hate to run into trouble. They'll figure it out and we'll get it sorted, and we'll be able to come back here and expect to run strong again. I just hate it.

"Hendrick Motorsports, they work harder than anyone in the business. They're the best company in the business and we ought to be out there running up front still, but we'll get it eventually."

While coming close numerous times, Earnhardt has yet to return to Victory Lane since winning this race a year ago. It was a win which snapped a four-year winless streak. The pervasive thought entering the weekend was that he would have an excellent chance at getting back in the winner's circle.

However, that belief waned when the 88 team struggled throughout practice. But dramatic changes to the setup following Saturday's two practice sessions, along with some timely adjustments Sunday, propelled Earnhardt towards the front.

And this was why Earnhardt, despite not making it to the finish line, had high praise for his team post-race.

"I was just telling (crew chief Steve Letarte) how proud I was of him and the team because we were really frustrated yesterday after practice," Earnhardt said. "Really frustrated with how the car was driving and where our speed was. Just telling them guys to hold their head up, they did a great job overnight getting the car competitive. We had a first or second-place car right there."

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