Was there a deeper message – or deeper concern – in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to move to the back of the field late in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway?
Earnhardt showed early he had a car capable of contending for the win and led 26 laps – second-most in the race.
Yet after losing the lead during late pit stops, Earnhardt drifted toward the rear of the field and finished 26th, unable to make his way back to the front.
Many of his fans were upset there wasn’t a daring charge.
Earnhardt seemed to forecast the coming discontent, addressing his decision.
After explaining the difficulty he saw in other drivers’ ability to make that charge during the race, Earnhardt turned to perhaps a more telling reason for his strategy:
“I knew there was going to be a wreck, and I didn’t want to be in it. Simple as that,” he said. “There were three right there at the end.”
On the surface, there is nothing out of ordinary about these comments. Multicar wrecks at restrictor-plate tracks have become common, particularly late in races, and they can be some of the sport’s most violent.
There is, however, additional significance.
Many might forget it was at Talladega in the fall of 2012 when Earnhardt suffered his second of two concussions within a six-week span that caused him to sit out two races in the Chase, effectively ending his championship hopes.
That last-lap Talladega incident involved 25 cars. After the race, Earnhardt – long a fan of racing in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Talladega – called restrictor-plate racing “bloodthirsty” and said he no longer had any desire to compete in the races.
His comments at the time soon were overshadowed by his injury and absence from the track.
Could it be his actions Sunday were more a reminder of his current feelings toward this type of racing than a poor strategy?
Blaney has made one start in the Truck series at Kansas (a third-place finish) and one start in the Nationwide series (an 11th-place finish).
Should both Ryan and Dave qualify for the race, it would be the first time a father and son have competed in the same Cup race since Bobby Hamilton and Bobby Hamilton Jr. started the 2005 MBNA 500 at Atlanta.
Ryan competes full time in the Truck series for a team owned by Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski.
Anthony Anders, on the power of eight wins in 16 outings, occupies the top spot, followed by Dillon Bassett, Tommy Lemons Jr., Pulliam and Matt Bowling.