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'Amelia,' lets down Junior break up

Amelia crashed on Sunday. Unlike her namesake, what happened is not a mystery.

"It's fast when it doesn't have to handle good," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "But today it needed to handle, and we weren't handling."

The "we" would be Earnhardt and the car he named after Amelia Earhart. They were the favorites of NASCAR fans, aviation historians and Vegas oddsmakers. But like the famed pilot who tried to circumnavigate the globe, they came up short.

Nobody's sure of the location where Earhart's Lockheed Electra went down in 1937. Millions of people saw Earnhardt's Chevrolet wipe out in Turn 4 on Lap 182. He spun out, slid across the track and crashed nose-first into the retaining wall. Earnhardt finished 36th, 341/2 places below what he had averaged in Amelia.

Technically, the car was identified as Chassis No. 88-872. Hendrick Motorsports built it in 2014 after Earnhardt won his second Daytona 500.

The winner traditionally turns the car over to the track museum. There was nothing unusual about the replacement chassis Earnhardt would use in restrictor-plate races. Nothing except how well it performed with Junior behind the wheel. The No. 88 car had two wins, a second and a third. Drivers usually get a new chassis at the start of each season, but Earnhardt saw no need to mess with success.

"I don't want to get overly confident in what I'm doing, but the car really does everything I ask it to do," he said before the race. "This thing is so special, so I'm real excited."

Most drivers also don't give their cars names, but Earnhardt figured Chassis No. 88-872 earned one.

"Amelia Earhart was the first thing that came to mind. She must have been the most daring," Earnhardt said. "She sort of fits that mold of courage and determination that you need as a race driver."

The issue Sunday wasn't courage or determination. It was handling.

He got things under control well enough to start moving up after 350 miles. Then he got to Turn No. 4.

"We were starting to move forward and get aggressive, and I just lost it."

No mystery. Amelia finally started acting like just another chassis.

— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

'Amelia,' lets down Junior break up 02/21/16 [Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2016 9:49pm]
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