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Earnhardt Jr.'s return spoiled by late gamble

October 28, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Earnhardt Jr.'s return spoiled by late gamble

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- By all accounts, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to the No. 88 Chevrolet was a successful one, even if the events of the final few laps Sunday at Martinsville Speedway left him incensed and a bit tight-lipped.

Earnhardt ran solidly in the top 10 for much of the afternoon, even though in his estimation he "didn't have a really good car and fought some issues all day long."

But when Kevin Harvick's engine let go to bring out a caution flag with less than 30 laps remaining, crew chief Steve Letarte rolled the dice and decided to leave Earnhardt on the track, thinking most of the lead-lap cars also would stay out.

Instead, Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski were the only two not to take fresh left-side tires. Earnhardt was helpless to hold off the cars that did when the green flew. He tried to hold on to what positions he could, but a chain-reaction crash involving Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Sam Hornish Jr. with 11 laps remaining wrecked what had been a sterling return for the driver who missed two races after suffering a concussion at Talladega.

"It was just a tough deal," Earnhardt said. "Somebody had run over somebody from way back."

Earnhardt eventually finished 21st, the last car on the lead lap. It was good to get back in the car, he said, but the way the end of the race transpired took away much of the satisfaction.

"I was just really pissed off about how we finished that race," Earnhardt said. "That was really ridiculous. I mean, you've got to use a little common sense. That was not a good move."