CONCORD, N.C. -- To err is human, but it doesn’t keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. from being embarassed by his recent crash at Daytona.
Earnhardt caused a 12-car pileup trying to push the car of Marcos Ambrose in the draft. With NASCAR’s new Gen 6 race cars, the front bumper of Earnhardt’s Chevrolet didn’t match up with the back bumper of Ambrose’s Ford.
After Earnhardt hit Ambrose, chaos ensued and there were plenty of grumbling back in the NASCAR garage.
“That was the most embarassed I’ve been in a long time,” Earnhardt said Wednesday at the 31st annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “It was a mistake. I’ve made them before and it won’t be the last, but it was embarassing. By the time, the garage cleared out, it was just me and Jimmie (Johnson) on that one side and the Roush guys way down on the end. I don’t like being the guy who makes those kind of things happen. You don’t want to be in that conversation.”
Luckily for Earnhardt, most conversations last season centered around him snapping a four-year winless streak at Michigan and qualifying for NASCAR’s 10-race “Chase for the Championship.” However, the end of the season took a turn for the worst with a practice crash at Kansas, followed by a crash at Talladega which left him sidelined two weeks by a concussion.
After that setback, he’s ready to get back after it, feeling well rested from this offseason.
“I had enough time off,” he said. “Some offseasons feel like they go by pretty fast. Some feel like they go by pretty slow. I wasn’t ready for the season to be over with to be honest with you. We were trying to get back on our feet after missing a few races in the Chase. We felt like we still had some work to do and didn’t want the season to be over. I look forward to being back on the track.”
Despite the embarassment of the crash, Earnhardt likes NASCAR’s new car and added he was really happy with the way it drives. He now believes this year’s Daytona 500 will be like the restrictor-plate racing when the 38-year-old driver first came into the sport. Earnhardt won seven times on plate tracks before NASCAR switched to the “Car of Tomorrow.”
“The new cars remind me of what we had in 2005-06,” he said. “The way you help people will lend it to the way we did it 6-7 years old. I’m excited to get back to that side of plate-racing. I think it will be a really good Daytona 500.”
Maybe as good as the 2004 Daytona 500, which Earnhardt held off Tony Stewart over the final 20 laps to win. It was a victory he remembers as the biggest among his 19 career victories.
“I think about that race from time to time,” he said. “I mainly think about the (winning) pass, how we had to work to get by Tony. I remember the last 20 laps leading that race, wondering if a caution would come out and change the whole complexion of the race. I was wondering if the car would have a problem or what might happen.
“When we came to the white flag, I knew everything on the car was fine and we were going to win the race. I remember crossing the finish line and celebrating with the crew right there at the start-finish line. It keeps the memory fresh to see that on television again and again.”
The new car has him optimistic a second 500 victory could be in the cards. At a minimum, he’s positive Daytona will be more enjoyable with a style of racing much different than the two-car tandems seen the last two years.
“The tandem drafting we were doing, that wasn’t any fun,” he said. “You ask the drivers why they get in the sport, it’s because they enjoy doing it. You didn’t become a race car driver because it paid a lot. You did it because it was fun. It will definitely be more fun for me.”