Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Dale Earnhardt Jr. lowers expectations for Saturday night's Southern 500


Did teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson leave their game in Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Dale Earnhardt Jr. says don't put any money on him winning here this weekend.
   And after last weekend's misguided optimism at Richmond, that's probably a good call.

   Earnhardt, who father dominated action at Darlington Raceway like few men in the sport's long history, concedes this is not one of his better tracks.
   "This place is pretty intimidating," Earnhardt says. "You don't ever take it for granted you're going to run well.
    "I don't even really know what my track record is here. I know I've finished okay in a couple of races, but I don't even know what my track records stands."
    It is in fact rather mediocre, with a fourth in 2008 his best ever.
   Still, this has been a good spring for Earnhardt, though he's still not leading enough laps, and he's not qualifying well at all, which of course puts him in a whole from the git-go. Only twice has Earnhardt qualified better than 24th (at Daytona and Talladega).
   Despite the Richmond miscue (teammate Jimmie Johnson was also way off his game), Earnhardt says he's still got confidence. "My confidence is up just because we've run good this year."
   What in the world happened at Richmond? Earnhardt was quite fast off the truck, but faded as the weekend went on. In the race he was lapped early. And then a pit road call late went awry, and he was short of gas, and thus needed an extra stop. "It's just a missed opportunity," Earnhardt says. "
   The entire weekend, Earnhardt says, was frustrating: "We're on such a good track throughout the first part of the year here, and that deal just really gets to you."
    Now, once he gets through Saturday night's race, he'll head over to his mom's to celebrate Mothers Day: "We're just going to hang out together out by the pool and drink a couple beers, I guess.
   "She's cool, man."

   Rain idles teams Friday afternoon, after 90 minutes of practice. Since this is an 'impound' race, with cars impounded after qualifying (scheduled for 5:10 p.m. ET  Friday), it's hard to decipher practice speeds, since most probably run on race setups. However Ryan Newman, once Mr. Friday for his hot qualifying, was atop the charts, just ahead of Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.

   And what to make of Johnson's problems at Richmond?
   Well, at least he didn't meltdown like Kurt Busch did.
   However Johnson concedes "Man, I was coming unraveled."
   Johnson has long been known as Mr. Cool when under pressure, throughout his career.
    "I guess we're all wired differently, and some have higher thresholds. But my 'fun meter' was pegged; it was not a good night," Johnson says. 
    "You don't see me in a lot of issues on track; and it's so easy to get caught up in that stuff when you're angry and mad. Guys can get frustrated, mad, and start running into another one.  That energy just breeds more of it.  Before you know it, you turn around, cars wreck.
    "I felt like I was completely out of control last weekend.
    "But we never lost our heads completely, and that's what led to the good finish (8th, after running in the 20s most of the race). Proud of that. 
    "Just not a night we expected to have, especially leaving happy hour strong as we were. 
    "I've always had that ability to keep my cool longer than others.  But I still snap. I started to in the car late in the race."
    Johnson hasn't always been Mr. Cool. "I can remember I was a kid racing dirt bikes, there's one kid that I was racing for the local track championship. 
    "He fell in the corner in front of me, and I went down too. As I'm going to pick up my bike, he's shoving me so I can't get to my bike so he can get to his bike. 
    "We ended up in the wrestling match.  We're like 11 or 12 years old. 
    "I get up before him, I shove him down, and then when he got off the track, I launched my bike over towards the pit area and knocked him off his bike. 
    "At that moment I turned around and saw my parents -- my dad's shocked face and my mom's shocked face.
     "I think there's something from that moment that stuck with me. I was embarrassed by it." 

    Still those moments of frustration could easily erupt here again Saturday night. Because this place, since being repaved, is crazy-fast.
   "The speeds we run around here, it's really mind-boggling," Johnson says.
    "Some tracks we go to you don't feel you're running 210 -- like at Michigan or California, because going into a corner, there's so much room, it's so wide.
    "But at this track the sensation of speed is probably the highest of anywhere we go. 
     "I think Greg Biffle at a tire test was like 206 mph into turn three…which is crazy to think of at a mile-and-a-third track.
    "The speeds are high, and it's a narrow, narrow track."
   Which can lead to problems like Johnson himself had here last spring.
    "There was a wreck in the front of us, I got into the back of Tony Stewart. Then A.J. (Allmendinger) had his brake issue going down the back straightaway --  I never saw him.  It was like a missile coming out of the infield that hit me.
    "It was a miserable night.
    "When things start working against you, or the lady starts working against you, it's over."


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com