News & Media

No more riding around at the back for Junior

October 29, 2011, David Caraviello,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- After finishing 25th at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. vows to not sit back and wait

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s days of riding around at the back of restrictor-plate races are over.

NASCAR's most popular driver said he and drafting partner Jimmie Johnson learned their lesson last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, where the Hendrick Motorsports teammates hung out in the back for much of the race, hoping to sprint to the front at the end. But three cautions in the final 20 laps derailed that plan, and the two were resigned to mediocre finishes for the second consecutive plate race.

"Hindsight is 20/20, but when we get that opportunity again, I don't think that's a strategy we'll ever use again."


No more, Earnhardt said at Martinsville Speedway.

"At the end of the race we collectively decided that we learned our lesson, and that we won't do that again," he said. "Given the opportunity to run that race over, we would have just thrown ourselves into the fight and tried to run as hard as we could and taken whatever risks needed to be taken to stay toward the front. Hindsight is 20/20, but when we get that opportunity again, I don't think that's a strategy we'll ever use again."

Although Earnhardt was clearly unhappy with running at the back for much of the race -- he called it "boring" in the immediate aftermath last weekend -- he emphasized that the strategy was a team decision. Cautions at the end scuttled the plan, and the result was a 25th-place finish for Earnhardt and a 26th-place finish for Johnson, which put the reigning champion 50 points behind Carl Edwards coming to Martinsville.

"I don't ever recall a disagreement," Johnson said. "What Junior and I did was in the days leading into the Talladega race, our crew chiefs took the responsibility to call the race and tell us when to go and what to do. Junior and I both agreed that inside the car it's tough to understand the big picture. And we find that it's really easy for us to get overly excited and feel like we need to go up in and race. And with the strategy we all agreed to put in play, it was to ride and wait and at the very end of the race, go, and get up in there.

"And we took direction from our crew chiefs as we were instructed to do and those last cautions really hurt our plan. That's what really got us. And then on the last restart, we were sitting there in 20-something place with two laps to go. Junior was in front of me, and my car was overheating. I've got to get in front of him to try to get a push, and with two laps, it just didn't play out as we had hoped it would. But we were just sitting in the cars taking direction."

Earnhardt said he understood the plan going in, and bought into it. "I wasn't a victim of it," he said. "I bought into the same idea that the two crew chiefs and that Jimmie had, and we all did that together. And we all made the choices that got us our poor finish together. And no one person out-ruled or overruled the other. Everybody sort of collectively sunk the ship as the race went on. And it was disappointing."