ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Three turns into the Dura Lube 400, a battered car and a hushed crowd provided an eerie reminder of last Sunday's tragedy in Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked away from this one, just seven tough days after his famous father died in a frighteningly similar crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
The younger Earnhardt was bruised, but escaped serious injury, limping away from the accident.
"I hate it for Junior because this would have really took his mind off it for quite a while, just getting one race behind him," said Tony Eury Jr., a member of his crew and a cousin. "But when he come in the garage area, we all just grabbed him and told him don't worry about it. We always got next week."
The 26-year-old Earnhardt, coming off the toughest week of his life, appeared to shrug off the mishap, even though it occurred on the first lap of racing since his father was killed.
"Somebody got into me," Earnhardt Jr. told his team over the radio. "I was really ready to go racing. We'll be all right, guys."
On a rainy day filled with tributes to Dale Earnhardt, his son was tapped from behind and slammed into the wall between turns 3 and 4 shortly after a moment of silence to remember The Intimidator. The elder Earnhardt was killed when he hit the wall on the final turn of the Daytona 500 last Sunday.
Earnhardt Jr., in his second full season driving on the Winston Cup circuit, started 25th in the 43-car field. The start of the race was delayed 1 hour, 33 minutes by rain, and later was postponed until 11 a.m. Monday because of the weather. Drivers completed 52 of 393 laps, and the race resumes with lap 53.
Moments before he crashed, Earnhardt Jr. was in a tightly bunched pack of cars heading into the third turn on the 1.017-mile North Carolina Speedway oval. Robby Gordon swerved down the banked track in front of Earnhardt Jr., who slowed slightly. Rookie Ron Hornaday Jr. then bumped the rear of Earnhardt's Chevrolet, sending it into the car driven by Kenny Wallace and then into the concrete wall at an angle.
In the crash that killed the elder Earnhardt in the season-opening race, the seven-time champion bumped with Sterling Marlin, bounced into Kenny Schrader and hit the wall at 180 mph. He died instantly of head injuries.
Earnhardt Jr. was racing at about 150 mph when he crashed into the wall. Asked if he was injured, he smiled and said, "The lap belt was a little too tight. I'm a little bruised up. I'll be OK."
He was checked at the infield medical center and released.
A NASCAR doctor said the elder Earnhardt might have survived if one of his two lap belts hadn't broken. NASCAR is investigating what caused the belt to come apart.
In all, six drivers were involved in Sunday's wreck, including Jimmy Spencer, Mike Wallace and Hut Stricklin. Only Earnhardt Jr. and Kenny Wallace were unable to return to the race.
"It was just like a traffic jam," Kenny Wallace said. "Everybody was wanting the bottom of the race track and somebody got into the back of Earnhardt and got it starting. It was a bad deal."
Before the crash, prerace tributes honored the elder Earnhardt as one of the greatest stock car racers in history.
Most of the drivers and crewmen wore black, red and silver caps with Earnhardt's No. 3 on the front. The members of the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team, which fields cars for Earnhardt Jr., Steve Park and Daytona winner Michael Waltrip, stood on the pit wall during the national anthem holding the caps aloft in a salute to their former boss.
"There's a lot of people here wanting to honor Dale," Jeff Gordon said. "We wanted to put these hats on as a little tribute, to let him know everyone's thinking about him and wishing he was here."
Darrell Waltrip, a retired three-time champion and a longtime friend, asked the 60,000 spectators to stand for a moment of silence, then said a brief prayer.
"You wonder how can we go out and race today? We do it knowing Dale would want us to," Waltrip said.
Signs and banners honoring Earnhardt Sr. were scattered throughout the grandstands and around the grounds of the speedway. Many in the crowd wore hats, shirts or jackets emblazoned with the No. 3.
There wasn't much racing once the accident was cleaned up. A light rain began during that caution and kept the cars running under a yellow flag until lap 32.
Pole-winner Gordon kept the lead until lap 44, when Park moved past to a giant roar from the crowd.
Moments later, rain began again and the leaders pitted, leaving Stacy Compton out front.
But the rain that began as a sprinkle turned into a downpour that brought out a red flag. After a 20-minute wait, NASCAR postponed the rest of the race.
Joe Gibbs, who owns the cars driven by defending series champion Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, said the postponement makes it tough on everybody.
"You've got to be resilient," the former Washington Redskins coach said. "You've got to be the kind of team that can bounce back, get ready to go tomorrow and, hopefully, have a good day."
Earnhardt Jr. will have to wait for his chance next Sunday in Las Vegas.
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