Just when Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought he had overcome a broken sway bar arm that put him a lap down early in Sunday's NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway, another problem suddenly emerged.
After rallying to get back on the lead lap and moving into the top 15, Earnhardt Jr. began to feel a vibration on the right side of his car after a pit stop.
His diagnosis: A loose wheel.
The ensuing pit stop to fix the problem – while the rest of the field raced under the green flag – ultimately relegated Earnhardt Jr. to a disappointing 24th-place finish.
"It was just too loose, and I didn't think we could make it many more laps," said Earnhardt Jr., who fell to 10th in points. "So we had to come in and fix that, and that got us behind pretty bad. From there on, it was a little too late to play catch-up."
Despite a setback that was no fault of his own – it's a tire changer's job to make sure all the lugnuts are tight on a pit stop – Earnhardt Jr. said he couldn't be too mad at anyone.
"I've had a lot of shit happen to me over the years, good and bad," he said. "Just kinda gotta roll with the punches. I don't think I'm BS-ing myself when I think we brought a good car to the track.
"The loose wheel cost us a lot. That happens, though. Those guys are doing the best job they can. They had a couple really good pit stops today and a really good week last week. We'll just try not to have a loose wheel next time. I've got some great guys and I'm happy to go to the racetrack with 'em."
Earnhardt Jr. was impressed with his team's ability to fix the No. 88 car so quickly and only lose one lap after the initial problem, which occurred when the driver was trying to warm up his tires under an early-race caution.
As he drove from side to side, the sway bar arm snapped and broke.
"We were able to fix it and lose only one lap, and then we raced our way into the lucky dog and got the next caution," he said. "It was a bunch of luck right there, really. Pure luck to get that lap back."
So now what? Earnhardt Jr. is 34 points behind Chase leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, who are tied for first.
"Just try to win a race," he said. "Go win a race and see what happens. See if you can knock it in half. Who knows? You can't quit.
"We've got that opportunity there. We've got a hot pass to the garage area, and you're going to go in there and check it out, man. We've got an opportunity to race in the Chase and we're still alive, and we'll keep racing as hard as we can until the last lap at Homestead."
Earnhardt Jr. said he owed it to himself to keep fighting no matter how dire the circumstances.
"It's really hard to look yourself in the mirror when you don't give it your all, even when it doesn't look great and your opportunity to win a championship doesn't look great," he said. "It's hard to look at yourself in the mirror if you don't try every time, every lap."