Had he put it together Sunday, the story for Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have been the biggest of the NASCAR season. Instead, Earnhardt Jr. came up inches short of victory at Talladega Superspeedway and was eliminated from the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Despite the disappointment however, NASCAR’s most popular driver was able to smile and show a great deal of class.
Earnhardt came into the CampingWorld.com needing to win to advance to the next round of NASCAR’s Chase. For much of the 188 laps Earnhardt had the car to beat. Has they have in the past though, issues for Earnhardt came on pit road. Pitting under green, he twice smoked the tires on his Chevy forcing a tire change when the crew wanted to pit for fuel only.
Then on lap 122, Earnhardt was penalized when a crewmember came over the wall too soon. Earnhardt forced back in for a pass through. He rejoined the field 27th and was in danger of going a lap down until the first caution of the race came out when Justin Allgaier lost an engine on lap 132. Because of the caution, Earnhardt stayed on the lead lap, restarted 21st and was back inside the top 10 within 11 laps.
Earnhardt raced his way to the front and was in contention for the lead in the in the final laps, but a controversial finish ended his hopes for a title this season. Earlier in the week, NASCAR ruled that there would only be one attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish at Talladega instead of the traditional three. Jamie McMurray lost an engine with five laps to go setting up the only attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. On the first attempt, Jimmie Johnson was spun behind the leaders and NASCAR threw a caution prior to the field crossing the start-finish line. NASCAR ruled that there would be another attempt.
On the second attempt, Joey Logano held a slight lead over Earnhardt as they crossed the line but another crash occurred behind them and NASCR was forced to throw the caution again. After a few minutes to review the results, NASCAR ruled Logano the winner and Earnhardt second, eliminating him from the next round of the Chase. Earnhardt later said he agreed with the decision.
“Another 100 yards I would have been in the lead, but NASCAR makes the calls,” he said. “They are the governing body and I have 100 percent faith in the choices that they make. I’m not going to be too upset about it.”
Earnhardt said he is glad the weekend was over. But despite the finish was happy with his performance.
“I felt like crap all weekend,” Earnhardt said. “Just been real nervous, feeling sick to my stomach.
“I just wanted to go out there, whatever happened, put forth a good account of myself, my team,” he added. “I’m real proud of what we did today. So I can feel good about that.”
Earnhardt admitted that his problems to this point in the Chase were those he caused himself.
“I can look back on a lot of different things that put me in this situation right now, starting with the first two races in this round where we didn’t run well,” Earnhardt said. “We got wrecked by the 19, and just didn’t run well at Kansas.”
When all was said and done however, Earnhardt was proud of his team and what they have accomplished. He is also looking forward to the rest of the season..
“We’re disappointed today,” he said. “We were disappointed last year when we left Talladega. But we went to Martinsville and sort of surprised ourselves with our first win there.”
“Dang, you know, when I look at that video of all of us jumping up and down on that trailer like idiots, that’s a team that’s not too bothered being knocked out of the Chase right there,” he added. “If we can go to the racetrack and win, it certainly makes our situation much more bearable. If we could go to Homestead and run well, I’d love to win there. Never won there. I like that track. Running against the wall is a lot of fun. We’ll see.”