An unscheduled pit stop didn't prevent Dale Earnhardt Jr. from earning… (Patrick Smith / Getty Images )
INDIANAPOLIS — Dale Earnhardt Jr. found himself in a hole early in the Brickyard 400 but the popular NASCAR driver recovered to finish sixth Sunday.
After only 12 laps of the 160-lap race, Earnhardt had a loose wheel on his No. 88 Chevrolet and was forced to make a pit stop. That dropped him to the rear and left him one lap behind the leaders.
But a caution period on Lap 59 enabled Earnhardt to get back on the lead lap and he stayed in the top 10 for most of the race.
"You're running that thing at 200 mph at the end of the straightaway, you don't want to take any chances" with the wheel, Earnhardt said.
Once fixed, "the car had good speed," he said. But at the end of the race, "we were either running out of gas or had a bit of an engine problem. I almost lost another spot."
Burton's skid continues
The long winless spell for Jeff Burton dragged on at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Burton entered the Brickyard 400 with a 168-winless streak and, on the 82nd lap of Sunday's race, his No. 31 Chevrolet slowed on the track with an apparent gearbox or drive-shaft problem.
The Virginian eventually returned to the race after repairs but finished last in the 43-car field, extending his winless streak to 169 races.
A long day for Patrick
Danica Patrick struggled all weekend to find sufficient speed and the situation improved little in the race.
After starting 33rd, Patrick remained in the back of the field for most of the race and she finished 30th, two laps down to the leaders.
Patrick first gained fame in 2005 when she nearly won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in the IndyCar series. She later moved to NASCAR and is driving in her rookie Cup season.
"Just wasn't really anything special," she said of Sunday's run. "I know this track very well, but I didn't feel like I knew it in this car."
Patrick is 26th in the Cup standings, which is higher than five other drivers who also have competed in all 20 races so far this season.