Pure Michigan 400: Frustrated Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishes 36th

Geoff Burke

A blown tire ended what was a promising afternoon for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sunday at Michigan.

Twice this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a car good enough to win at Michigan International Speedway. And twice, NASCAR's most popular driver was denied a victory due to circumstances out of his control.

The most recent occurrence was during Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 when Earnhardt, running seventh, blew a right-front tire and hit the wall. The damage was significant enough that he was forced to take his No. 88 car behind the wall for repairs.

"(The tire) was down on the splitter getting into the corner," Earnhardt said. "I got it slowed down pretty good and then started getting close to the wall and put a little brake in it and it blew the tire out. It had a slow leak and I didn't know.

"We have had a lot of problems with this particular tire and it's getting frustrating."

Prior to the incident on Lap 134, Earnhardt had paced the field for 20 laps. After the damage was fixed, he returned to the track multiple laps down and finished 36th. He led 34 laps in June at Michigan before an engine failure while out front put him in the garage prematurely.

But the biggest hit Earnhardt took Sunday may not have been on the track, but in the point standings.

What was once a comfortable margin has disappeared due to wrecks in consecutive weeks. And with three races to go before the Chase is set, he is seventh in the standings, 20 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne.

"I think we'll be all right," Earnhardt said. "We're not an 11th-place team. We're a top-five team. We're consistent. We're more consistent than most ... We've got good speed and we've just got to keep our head up and keep working hard and things will be all right."

Adding to Earnhardt's aggravation was the continuation of a winless streak that dates back to June 2012. As he did at Michigan, he has had cars good enough to win multiple times over the last 14 months. Yet for a variety of reasons, he has not.

"It's just kind of frustrating," Earnhardt said. "It's just bad luck. If we keep running like we're supposed to run and like we've been running, we'll get on into the Chase and not have to worry about it.

"But this bad luck, we need to shake that. We just can't keep having this every week. It's been biting us every week. So we'll just have to see what happens."

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