SPARTA, Ky. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway when he ran over a piece of tire debris from Denny Hamlin's car on lap 43.
Earnhardt, who started from the pole, hit the tire casing flat with his left front fender and there was enough damage to send him to pit road for repairs. He restarted 25th and was unable to make up track position until a second pit stop a few laps later.
Once the team regained track position in the middle stages of the race, the damage prevented them from keeping it and Earnhardt wavered around mid-pack until a late race charge earned him 12th in the final rundown.
Despite the mixed results, Earnhardt isn't letting the bad luck discourage him.
"It's good to be fast, I'll tell you that," Earnhardt said. "You can't do nothing about what's happened to us but keep working. You can't get down about it. This doesn't take away from how well the cars have been running."
Despite three straight finishes outside of the top 10, Earnhardt doesn't believe major changes are required to get his season back on track.
"We just have to tell ourselves that we're doing everything right," Earnhardt added. "We need to stay the course and things will add up. If we start getting angry and start pulling levers trying to change stuff, it's detrimental.
"We have fast cars and we can't make our own luck -- it's just going to happen sometime."
Earnhardt says that his team has a lot of chemistry this season and that everyone is pushing each other to do better from week-to-week.
"I push them as much as they push me and we've really held each other accountable lately," Earnhardt said. "I really think it will pay off. (Crew chief Steve Letarte) asks a lot of me and I expect just as much in return. I expect their 'A-game' all the time and I think it's good to keep everybody in check."
Next up for Earnhardt and the Sprint Cup Series is Daytona International Speedway and the Coke Zero 400. Earnhardt was the runner-up in February at the Daytona 500 and has to be considered one of the favorites for next Saturday.
Earnhardt leaves Kentucky sixth in the Sprint Cup standings and is 98 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the top spot.