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NOTES

Crash Shakes Up Earnhardt

April 29, 2002|Martin Henderson and Dan Arritt

Banged and bruised, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left California Speedway on crutches after the nastiest accident of the NAPA Auto Parts 500 on Sunday.

The race's only two-car crash also involved Kevin Harvick.

"I hit hard as hell, and you know about as much as I do about the rest of it," Earnhardt said after Harvick blew a tire while running on the outside and veered into Earnhardt in Turn 4. The contact spun Earnhardt in front of Harvick and both hit the outside retaining wall with the front of their Chevrolets.

The left front of Earnhardt's car slammed into the wall. He had the wind knocked out of him and his right ankle was "swollen and bruised," he said. "It's as hard as I've ever hit the wall."

Harvick, who completed 226 of 250 laps, finished 35th and Earnhardt, who completed 225, finished 36th.

*

Jeff Gordon the owner had the winning driver of the race, Jimmie Johnson, but Gordon the driver had some rotten luck.

The four-time Winston Cup champion started 17th, but spent most of the day in the top 10 trying for his first win of the season. He was in fifth place when he pitted under green on Lap 188 and exited in 12th place, one lap behind Kurt Busch.

No problem, except on Lap 189, Jeremy Mayfield blew an engine, bringing out a caution flag. The leaders pitted under yellow, and Gordon was unable to get back on the lead lap.

Gordon, who has won twice at California Speedway, still wound up at the post-race news conference alongside his driver, Johnson.

"It's the first time I've ever been in this room after finishing 16th," Gordon said.

*

For the sixth year in a row, the pole-sitter failed to win. Rookie Ryan Newman, who set a Winston Cup track record in qualifying, led only three laps, 2 through 4. By Lap 16, he dropped to 10th, and he finished 14th, a lap behind the winner.

"I think we had a really good car," Newman said, "but at times we were the worst car on the track."

*

Ken Schrader finished last when his Pontiac blew an engine after four laps.

"We've had a great car for eight of the 10 races this year, but the best we have to show for it is 22nd," Schrader said.

"Every now and then, a piece of metal is going to break."

Which piece?

"One of those important pieces that goes real fast."

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