Earnhardt Seeks Redemption

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets ready for practice Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to Daytona International Speedway seeking redemption.

Not at this track but with restrictor-plate racing. And with fans.

The Daytona 500 winner settled for a 26th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway - the most recent restrictor-plate race - after his run was stalled and he fell back in the final laps.

“I’ve been in too many late-race wrecks,’’ he said after the Talladega race in May. “I didn’t want to be no part of it. So we’ve got a car in one piece.’’

Earnhardt’s tone was different on his Dirty Mo Radio podcast later that week where he said he felt “like I should have put on a better effort just for the people who come to watch us race.’’

Thursday, Earnhardt - seeking to be only the second person in the last 30 years to sweep both Daytona races in the same season - said his Talladega performance in the final laps was “embarrassing.

“The way we ran, what I chose to do at the end of that race was just uncharacteristic of really anybody that’s in the field trying to compete,’’ Earnhardt said. “I just got really frustrated with the way things were working out for us and lost sight of the overall big picture and what you’re out there trying to do and who is all out there depending on you to do what you need to do.

“You’re never too old to be taught a lesson. I definitely experienced that at Talladega this year. I think I got real selfish at Talladega. How the result affected anyone I never took into account. I was just out there thinking more about me and what I thought, what I wanted to do and how frustrated I was and forgot there was a team behind me, depending on me and a lot of fans there to see us race and show up and spend their hard-earned money. It definitely was a hard thing to go through.’’

Earnhardt’s focus is on winning his second consecutive race at Daytona International Speedway.

He said with track position critical, he’ll have to be aggressive just as he was in the 500.

“To win the race, you’re really going to have to play some pretty hardcore, cut-throat racing,’’ he said.

Overlooked by Earnhardt’s two win this season is what he’s done lately. His third-place finish at Sonoma was his first top-10 at the track in 15 starts there. He followed that by placing fifth at Kentucky, a track he says he’s struggled at times previously. Since last year’s Chase, Earnhardt has scored 20 top-10 finishes in his last 26 races.

“That’s been the tough part for me over my career is really to sustain any kind of momentum,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’d start off great, then have a terrible summer and maybe end well. It was never complete. It seems like this team is as good as it has ever been. Hopefully, we can maintain it.’’

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of the Sprint Cup race from Daytona Int’l Speedway. Air time for Saturday's Coke Zero 400 is 6:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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