This just in: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is human.
With a day to reflect on the finish of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt says he regrets riding in the back of the pack Sunday, avoiding possible crashes and settling for a lackluster, 26th-place finish.
“I let a lot of people down,” said Earnhardt on his “Dirty Mo Radio” program at dalejr.com. “(I’m) just real disappointed in how we finished, disappointed in how I ran the race… disappointed in a lot of things.”
After the checkered flag fell Sunday, the Hendrick Motorsports driver admitted languishing in the rear of the field down the stretch, believing there was not enough time remaining to race his way to Victory Lane. “We’ve already got a win,” said Earnhardt at the time, “(and) I’ve been in too many late-race wrecks. I didn’t want to be no part of it.”
Now, Earnhardt says he regrets that decision, calling Sunday, “not a good day.
“I had plenty of race car,” he said. “We got ourselves some track position, actually got into the lead and were able to hold the lead pretty easily. I felt everything was working out like we planned, and we were going to be up there in the Top-5 the rest of the day. Trying to win the race was going to be on our mind the rest of the (way), but we didn’t feel like we could make it on fuel. We gave up the lead and a couple of them guys gambled and made it work.
“(For) 20 laps, there was really nowhere to go and no point sitting in the back,” he recalled. “They ended up wrecking a couple of times, but at the end, I didn’t do what I needed to do. The last 10 laps of the race -- when I should have been up there getting a little more aggressive and finding spots and positions -- I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.”
Earnhardt’s decision – right or wrong – was clearly one borne of frustration. No driver enjoys giving up a hard-fought lead late in the race, even when pitting for tires and fuel is clearly the correct thing to do. No driver envies the prospect of fighting tooth-and-nail to regain ground he had fought for – and won – just a few laps earlier. In the end, however, there is no excuse for giving less than a 100-percent effort, at any time.
If you’re running out of laps, you keep plugging to the bitter end. If your outside-line run stalls out, you organize another one. And another. If you cannot win, you adjust your goals, lower your standards and race your guts out for second place, or third.
Quitting should never be an option, for any of us.
After all, there’s only one man allowed to run-up the white flag in NASCAR, and that’s the man in the flag stand. Junior lost track of that fact Sunday, falling victim to the frailty of human emotions and momentarily checking his competitive spirit at the door.
“I know a lot of people are disappointed,” said Earnhardt. “I’m disappointed that they’re disappointed. I should have put on a better effort for the people who come out and watch us race and, obviously, for my crew.
“I feel like I let a lot of people down, and I just have got to live with that. That’s a decision I made and that’s how it works. I hate it all coming out like that, and I learned… some pretty hard lessons today.
“Hopefully, we won’t ever have a repeat of that again.’’