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Tom Talks: Dale Jr., bad guy

Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

Dale Earnhardt Jr. might be the least likely bad guy in NASCAR history. Although he is by far his sport's biggest star, he seems almost unaware of his celebrity. I take that back. He knows he's a big deal. But he doesn't act like it. He is one of those people you have to work not to like.

Earnhardt made that a little easier, however, after his performance in Sunday's Daytona 500. After two glaring miscues, after twice missing his pit box, he was a lap down. There was more urgency than usual because rain was about to fall.

Every team has its own weather expert. You expect to see 43 of them along the water on Daytona Beach, wind blown and rain splattered ,as they interrupt regular programming to talk about the pending storm.

The rain was coming and Earnhardt wanted to get back on the lead lap and in contention now. He was coming fast and Brian Vickers blocked him and Earnhardt went low, way low, beneath the double yellow line. And then, instead of moving back onto the track and fitting into traffic, Earnhardt attempted to create space where none existed and popped Vickers from behind.

Vickers spun and nine cars were caught up in the wreck, including Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. With the big names out, the remaining 28 laps weren't nearly as exciting.

Earnhardt did not appear to try to take out Vickers. But he didn't try to avoid him, either. He made a terrible, hot-headed mistake.

Race fans paid.