The first NASCAR Xfinity Series start for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season was nothing short of dramatic.
Earnhardt ran an impressive race in the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but a fire ultimately ruined his chances of winning.
The veteran driver’s outstanding performance was cut short with 30 laps remaining as the 48-year-old took the lead down the final straight and his car started to fill with smoke.
Earnhardt revealed that the fire burnt a hole in his shoe in his post-race account of what transpired.
“Saw some smoke in the car, I smelt it, and I was like, ‘Hopefully that’s not me,'” Earnhardt said via NBC Sports.
“That last lap, I saw a big fireball down in the tunnel in the car, and I felt it.
“Obviously my uniform was burning up. And I was like, ‘I can’t keep going, I gotta stop.'”
In light of Earnhardt’s bad luck, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric finished in first and second place, respectively. Hemric couldn’t manage to hold off Allgaier in the final laps, and Allgaier ultimately won the race.
Over the final 44 laps, Allgaier moved up 13 spots, securing his third victory of the year and securing a ticket in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs Round of 8.
The Bristol spectators remained on the edge of their seats as Allgaier finished first, yet Earnhardt’s return to the Xfinity Series was still the highlight of the evening.
Earnhardt made his first start since the race at Martinsville in April 2022, and his fellow drivers didn’t fall unaware of this.
“It’s fun for a guy like that to come back, our most popular driver in the sport, and him to bring the fans and the atmosphere it transcends through the garage and through the sport,” Hemric said.
“We appreciate that. We all do, media folks, drivers, the team and the like. But in the heat of the battle, you’re not worried about who’s in the race car.”