Earnhardt Jr. bristles, denies blame

Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. made two mistakes off the track Sunday, but it was the one on the track that was the most costly.

With bad weather closing fast and drivers thinking time was running out in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt on Lap 124 tried to dip to the inside of Brian Vickers as the two battled to get back on the lead lap.

Vickers moved low to block Earnhardt's advance and both went below the yellow line. As they moved back up toward the racing groove, Earnhardt's Chevrolet hit Vickers' Toyota, triggering a nine-car wreck.

Earnhardt was a lap down at the time of the wreck because he had stopped outside his pit box during the previous caution. That was his second pit-road mistake of the race. He had completely missed his pit during a caution early in the race and had to make a second stop.

Earnhardt's No. 88 survived the big wreck, but gone was any chance at victory for Kyle Busch, who had led 88 laps to that point. Serious damage was also inflicted on the cars of several others, including Jamie McMurray, Vickers, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.

"One guy that had problems on pit road made his problems our problems, and then our problems a big problem," Busch said. "It was really uncalled for to have two lapped cars to be racing each other and bumping each other like that.

"Those cars just should have sat there and waited and got back in line when they could."

Vickers said he couldn't understand why Earnhardt wasn't penalized for intentionally hitting him.

"I think (Jason Leffler) was penalized five laps (in Saturday's Nationwide race) for doing the same thing," Vickers said. "I guess they're not going to penalize him for it.

"It's kind of sad. To wreck somebody intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous."

In an interview during a rain delay, Earnhardt denied he had wrecked Vickers intentionally.

"I got a run on him. He saw me coming. I got a big ol' run on him and I went to the inside," he said. "I didn't try to make any late move or some surprise. He went to block me and hit me and sent me down to the grass.

"I tried to recover my car and I got back into him coming back up the race track. I don't hate it for him, but (I do) for everyone else that got wrecked."

Apparently the incident lingered with Earnhardt.

During a caution more than 20 laps later, Earnhardt radioed his crew and said, "Tell Vickers if he wants to meet me in the garage to get his ass beat, I'm willing."

Earnhardt finished 27th in the rain-shortened event.