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Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Daytona 500 frustrations and pressures simply built to the boiling point


An unforgettable SpeedWeeks for NASCAR's most popular driver...whose popularity took a hit in the Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Dale Earnhardt didn't have a very good SpeedWeeks, and his frustrations boiled over in Sunday's Daytona 500.
   And his critics weren't very kind.
   The story in the Chicago Tribune blistered Earnhardt for his run-in with Brian Vickers that wiped out so many cars, including the man who had been running away with the race, Kyle Busch.
   Earnhardt, who wound up a dismal 27th, pointed to the pressures of SpeedWeeks for the frustration.  
   "My car was really, really good…that was my mistake coming on to pit road and missing my box," Earnhardt conceded.
   "On the back straight I was a lap down trying to get my lap back, and I had a really, really good run, and Brian was side-by-side with somebody, and I went on the inside, and he drove me down -- down almost into the grass below the line.
   "And I didn't have much control over the car at that point. I was just trying to get back on the track…and I hit him in the quarter panel and spun him out."
   Actually the video seemed to show a rather deliberate move by Earnhardt to spin Vickers out. And the reaction generally has been against Earnhardt for that move.
   But it's unclear if Earnhardt realized he was in fact racing Vickers for a key position – for the 'Lucky Dog,' which gives the first man a lap down when the caution comes out a lap back.
   "I wasn't even racing for position," Earnhardt insisted.
   If Earnhardt didn't realize why Vickers was blocking him, that might make for a different situation.
   However, if Earnhardt indeed didn't know who he was racing for the 'Lucky Dog,' then his crew chief and spotter should share in the blame.
   Earnhardt said the Rick Hendrick teams certainly had enough power to handle Kyle Busch during the race: "I was up front, Jeff Gordon was up front, Mark Martin was up front."
   But Earnhardt said it was difficult to live up to everyone's expectations at Daytona: "You need to drop it a gear or two on your expectations.
   "We were good; I just had some bad luck.
    "Every time I would get in the front, some bad luck would take me to the back.
    "But I had a great car. I could run up in the top-five all night. All night.
   "Jeff's car was good too, he just had some tire issues.
   "I don't know why Jimmie was struggling. He seemed fast, but…"
   But it was the Earnhardt-Vickers run-in that this race will be remembered for.
   And Earnhardt, Sunday night, seemed lost about what had really gone on.
   First, Earnhardt had fallen way behind because he's missed finding his pit stall during routine yellow flag stops. For that, he complained about pit signs, and said he couldn't tell his pit sign from all the others.
   "If you look down this pit road, my sign is pink and every other sign is pink, so it's hard to see," Earnhardt complained. "They're all about the same color.
   "Then if I says 'All right, I'm going to make mine yellow this week, then two weeks later everybody's is yellow."
   Then, he made another bad pit stop, stopped with his right-front tire on the line, an obvious violation. A NASCAR official clearly pointed the violation, but an Earnhardt crewman simple pushed the official out of the way and kept working.
   That cost Earnhardt a one-lap penalty. And that set up the restart encounter with Vickers that changed the course of the race.
   After that crash there was debate that NASCAR should penalize Earnhardt for reckless driving.
   "Penalize me? For what?" Earnhardt said angrily. "I got ran in to and sent below the (out-of-bounds) line.
   "What the hell?
    "I don't want to go down there, I didn't aim to go down there, and I got sent down there.
    "What the hell am I supposed to do? Stay down there?
     "No. I got to get back up on the track.
     "It was unfortunate, man. If he wasn't so damn reckless, we would have never had that problem.
     "As far as I am concerned, it is all his responsibility."
    But then Earnhardt began cooling down:  "I was under a lot of pressure. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get up in there and try to lead a lap, and I just wasn't thinking good.
    "I mean I can't really blame it on anybody but myself."

Earnhardt's bad day

Hey Mike -- How could Junior NOT know he was racing Vickers for the Lucky Dog? Wasn't there a restart shortly before the wreck? And wasn't Vickers in front of Junior in the lap-down line? True, his spotter should be keeping him up to date on who he's racing (just like his cousin should have been counting down the pit stalls for him), but can't see how he missed the Red Bull Toyota right in front of him.

Scott Whitmore
The Herald

"I mean I can't really blame

"I mean I can't really blame it on anybody but myself."

Bingo!!! Junior finally got it right. His "bad luck" throughout the race was the result of mistakes HE made. "Bad luck" is what the 12 cars he wrecked had after Junior's intentional spinning of Vickers. Always trying to play the role of victim - sorry Junior, it wasn't you this time. Your turn is coming though. Hopefully Vickers will have a similar elaborate explanation for the "inadvertant contact" as you have had. I'm just curious if Vickers will get a penalty for retaliation.

Junior Falling Apart

People thought Junior was going to be a super-winning driver because of what he did with DEI on the plate tracks - no one noticed that DEI gained its plate track muscle because Louis Duncan came over from Ford and the team was able to hone the aerodynamics in the transmission tunnel and undersides of the cars for the plate tracks; once teams figured out what they were doing (helped by media reports first surfacing in 2003) then DEI lost its edge and had nothing left.

The reality has been that Junior was a decent fit with DEI but was never going to be better than he was, and now he's a poor fit with Hendrick and can't improve.

The wreck sure did look to me

The wreck sure did look to me like one of those racing deals, but at the same time there might not have been a wreck if Vickers had not bumped Dale,Jr. and forced him below the yellow line in trying to block him.

Vickers Wasn't At Fault

This isn't like Indycars where they need a no-blocking rule because the cars will flip into the fencing if they touch. Vickers beat Junior to the bottom lane and Junior flat out hooked him.

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