DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There are no excuses for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He messed up Sunday. Actually, he messed up several times. He missed his pit stall. He stopped his car on the outside line of his pit box. He put himself and his team in a deep, deep hole and he was doing whatever he could try to dig himself out of it.
And then he really messed up.
On Lap 146, heading down the backstretch, Earnhardt was trying to put himself in position to be the first car a lap down. He made a move to the inside and Brian Vickers, also battling for that same position, saw him coming. Vickers, doing the same thing all drivers do in restrictor plate races, moved down the track to block There's a double yellow line down there, and nobody can go below that to make a legal pass. Not even Earnhardt.
Earnhardt's move was thwarted. His only real option was to back out of his throttle and either try to push Vickers up past the cars to their outside or try to go around Vickers on the high side. But Earnhardt took another path. He went below the double-yellow and put himself in a position to do something that caused a problem. Which is what he did.
Here's the point. What Vickers did was a racing maneuever. That fact that his car is where it was had nothing to do with him making an error in decision or judgment.
The same cannot be said for Earnhardt. He messed up. He made the mistake. Nobody is saying he tried to wreck half the cars that had the best chance to win the race. Doesn't matter. That's what happened.
And he's going to have to take the heat for it.
His fans have already started making excuses for him and that's fine. That's what fans do. But this one is on Dale Jr.
The question now is what he and his team do about it. Daytona is over and the results are in. Now it's time to go to California and Las Vegas and the races beyond that and funnel the frustrations over what happened in the 500 into something productive.
People are going to argue about what happened in Daytona until there's another race for them to argue about. If Earnhardt starts winning, the error he made Sunday won't amount to much in the long run.
But for now, its THE topic. And for now, this one's on him.