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SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. defended his wife’s stance that he not compete in the 2018 Clash at Daytona International Speedway, saying that it was “probably my fault for throwing her under the bus like that.”
Earnhardt made the comments Saturday during a media gathering at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR).
Earnhardt, 42, is retiring from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition as the end of the 2017 season. He missed 18 races in ’16 due to a concussion and lingering effects, and missed two races earlier in his career for a similar issue.
By winning the pole earlier this month at Daytona, Earnhardt qualified for next year’s Clash, the non-points event held each February as the kick-off race of the new season.
Asked if he would consider returning to run in the race, he said “I will talk to my boss (team owner Rick Hendrick) and see what he has got in the shed.”
He later said Hendrick would have to convince his wife, Amy, if there was any consideration around competing in The Clash.
Earlier this week, Amy Earnhardt posted a Tweet stating the following: “I’ve received many comments on Dale Jr running the 2018 Clash, based on whether or not I give my blessing. Considering his struggles last fall with his injury, we are very blessed that he is now healthy, happy and able to enjoy his final season … and hopefully many years beyond racing. So my answer is simple. It’s not worth the risk of his health.”
Amy Earnhardt attended her husband’s doctor appointments and rehab sessions and worked with him every day to overcome vision and balance issues caused by the injury.
After her Twitter post, some fans took issue with her seemingly making the decision instead of her husband.
“You know, she had to put something out because she felt like she needed to say something,” Earnhardt said Saturday. “I put her in that position …
“But she’s been there for everything and a lot of folks that may have a different opinion about it weren’t there through the whole process. And so, if anyone knows how difficult it was … it would be her. It wasn’t a lot of fun for her.”
Earnhardt noted that The Clash, a short, 75-lap race made up of the previous year’s pole winners, previous Clash race winners and former Daytona race winners who competed full-time the previous year, often had a high number of crashes.
“I feel much more in control of my own fate in the remainder of this season and anything I do beyond that,” he said, “than I do being out there in The Clash.
“If you just look at the past history, at least my history, it’s been feast or famine. You either usually run really good or you end up tearing it up. It’s just probably not even worth it. But if it’s something she feels strongly about, we have to sit down and I have to hear her out.
“But, yeah, I kind of threw her under the bus there and probably should have never even mentioned it, but it put her in a tough spot and she felt like she had to voice some sort of a statement about it and I thought she handled it well. For no more characters than she used, I thought she got her point across.”
TEAM CO-OWNER Richard Petty said Saturday that his organization has not had extensive talks with Darrell Wallace Jr. about fielding a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry for the former XFINITY Series driver.
“If we had a chance, then definitely we would be more than interested in having him drive the cars,” Petty said. “Right now it’s up to somebody else. If somebody decides to be involved with us (from a sponsor standpoint), then we’ll work it out from there.”
Wallace was one of three drivers who filled in for the injured Aric Almirola earlier this year in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford. After finishing 26th in his Cup debut at Pocono, Wallace showed steady improvement in his next four starts, just missing a top-10 finish in his final start at Kentucky.
His results prompted some reports that Petty was considering adding a second team with Wallace as the driver if funding could be found.
Wallace started the 2017 season competing in the XFINITY Series for Roush Fenway Racing. He made 12 starts in the organization’s No. 6 Ford before the team was shut down due to a lack of sponsorship. Wallace was fourth in points at that time.
KURT BUSCH will be trying to accomplish something only three other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers have accomplished here Sunday – win the Daytona 500 and the Brantley Gilbert Brickyard 400 in the same season.
Dale Jarrett was the first to manage the feat in 1996, the third year NASCAR teams traveled to Indy. Jimmie Johnson did it a decade later (’06) and Jamie McMurray won both in 2010.
Busch, driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford, has five top-10 finishes at Indy, but admits the 2.5-mile track “has been tough on me over the years.”
“I don’t know what it is about it,” Busch said. “The diamond-cut surface, the way the asphalt is very fresh when we first get there and then how it glazes over and gets slick at the end – I’ve struggled with that over the years.”
Busch’s best NASCAR result was fifth in his debut here in 2001.
He competed in the Indy 500 in 2014, doubling up to run the open-wheel event as well as the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte the same day. He finished sixth at Indianapolis to claim top rookie honors.