“Luckily it was under caution. I just grabbed the shaft and steered the car that way. Might of ripped the skin off my hand, but I wasn’t going to let it hit the wall. That was just a freak deal”, Earnhardt told Fox Sports. Less than 50 laps into the race, Dale Jr. found himself behind the wall getting repairs done to his No.88 Chevrolet as a result of a collision with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne. In a rush to get back out onto the 2.66-mile track after going several laps down, NASCAR’s Most Popular driver failed to notice that the locking mechanism on his steering wheel was not fully engaged. “I put the wheel on and never grabbed the coupler and made sure it was locked,” Earnhardt explained days after the race. “You’re out of your element because you’ve crashed, you’re in the garage, they’re fixing the car, it’s starting to rain, the caution’s coming out, you’re going to climb back in.”
Earnhardt existed pit road and joined the rest of the field under caution. Before the race went back green, crew chief Greg Ives asked Earnhardt to check his safety belts and steering wheel. This is when Earnhardt discovered that his wheel was not properly secured to the steering column. A primary job of the crew chief is to help keep their driver’s head in the game. Quick thinking by Greg Ives prevented a potential disaster from taking place that could have put several teams out of the race.