DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Richard Childress Racing's shot at an emotional Daytona 500 victory went up in smoke.
Racing a decade after the death of the team's iconic former driver, Dale Earnhardt, RCR contenders Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton were taken out by a rare pair of engine failures — a rarity for a team that almost never has issues under the hood.
Clint Bowyer's engine stayed together and he remained in contention, only to get caught up in a late crash. Paul Menard finished a team-best ninth but wasn't a factor for the victory.
"I'm not going to hang my head," Burton said. "The effort was too good to be disappointed about."
It was a rough end to an emotionally taxing Daytona Speedweeks for Childress, Earnhardt's close friend and longtime car owner.
In the run-up to the race, Childress acknowledged that he was doing his best to block out the painful memories of a decade ago at Daytona — despite an onslaught of media and fan tributes to Earnhardt over the past two weeks.
RCR team members wore black No. 3 hats as a tribute to Earnhardt on Friday, the actual 10-year anniversary of his death. A victory Sunday certainly looked possible after RCR cars were strong throughout Speedweeks.
Then it all fell apart.
"Everybody busted their butt to come down here and put their best foot forward," Burton said. "We ran well all week, and I am proud of everybody. Disappointed. Exceptionally disappointed. But I am really proud of everybody."
Harvick's car lasted only 22 laps before sustaining what his team suspected was a broken engine block. Burton's car then gave up after 92 laps.
Harvick said his problems probably didn't have anything to do with concerns about overheating when acting as the pushing car in the two-car style of drafting that has dominated Daytona Speedweeks.
"I don't think so," Harvick said. "Overheating would be getting it to the point where it blows off, you see the water start to come out (of the radiator)."
But Burton said the racing at Daytona this year was taxing on engines.
"We're asking a lot out of the engines here for sure," Burton said. "These are tough situations."
The RCR team's engines are built by Earnhardt-Childress Racing, a joint venture between Childress' team and Dale Earnhardt Inc. Sunday's problems aside, they've been considered some of the most powerful and reliable in the field.
"We thought we were well within our limits, but maybe not," Burton said.
Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 champion, was one of the favorites in Sunday's season opener after showing plenty of speed during Speedweeks. He was lined up behind Matt Kenseth when his engine blew, sending smoke from underneath his No. 29 Chevrolet.
"We never blow motors," Harvick said.
Harvick said his oil temperature was reading a little bit high, and he was backing out from behind Kenseth's car to get his car cooled down when the engine blew.
"We had a touch more oil temp, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I had just pulled out," Harvick said. "That early in the race, even if you do get it hot, it's usually not catastrophic failure like we just had."
Harvick, who finished third in last year's Sprint Cup standings, said it was a tough way to start the new season.
"Obviously, you come to the biggest race of the year, and have that happen right off the bat is just something that you don't really want to happen," Harvick said. "It's just one of those things that happens. We go years and years without engine failures, and they do a great job on that. It happens."