Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t really mean it when he said those things this past October, and he can explain.
“Well, I hate to put the blame on the concussion,” Talladega’s most beloved driver said in the leadup to today’s Aaron’s 499, NASCAR’s first Talladega race since this past fall. “The feeling that I had physically when I got out of the car, I knew that I had set myself back somehow with the concussion thing.”
Get that, Daleadega Nation? He just wasn’t right in the head.
No, he really wasn’t.
The last-lap crash that claimed Earnhardt’s car and 24 others in October’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 left him with a concussion. He missed the next two races because of it.
This came six weeks after he suffered a previously unannounced concussion at Kansas.
The Talladega wreck also left Earnhardt with a rather poor attitude about the kind of racing that plays out on NASCAR’s two restrictor-plate tracks, including Talladega, so he let loose. He called the racing “ridiculous” and fans who like it “bloodthirsty.”
“I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year,” he said after the race, “but I ain’t got much choice.”
That had to leave a mark for fans who love their Earnhardts. Truth be told, lots of fans probably understood Earnhardt’s angst. Other drivers could say the same thing at Talladega and be accused of whining, but Earnhardt?
Listen to the man. He’s got a point, and he had a reason.
“I was really angry with that because I had spent four weeks to get to where I could feel like I was great,” he said. “And then, now, I’m going to take two steps back and have to do all that again.
“I was really, really mad that I couldn’t just get through that wreck and not have that happen.”
Six months later, he expressed regret.
“I’ve regretted making those comments, and I think I overreacted and overstated my feelings quite a bit,” he said. “It’s frustrating when you run around, and we spend all day running 495 miles, and then crash in the last five. The whole field crashes.
“It’s really frustrating to sort of accept that as what I decided to do today. I got up Sunday morning and decided to run 495 miles to crash in the last five miles, and now I’m going to go home, and I’m all right with that. That’s hard to wrap your brain around, and I’m okay with it and everything’s cool.
“But I think I did overreact a little bit and just was real emotional.”
Here’s the thing, though … Talladega is still Talladega.
Rules change. The car changed this year, but the Gen-6 car still races with those pesky restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona. There will still be packs of cars drafting in tight quarters, and there will still be the chance for those chain-reaction crashes.
Those chances get greater at the end of the race, when drivers get more aggressive. Things went all wrong in October because Tony Stewart tried to block Michael Waltrip.
There’s still every chance to drive 495 miles and miss the last five. Hey, didn’t we say Earnhardt had a point?
Lots of other drivers have made the same point, but it’s all in how one puts the point. A presumably-not-concussed Earnhardt knows all too well where he’s loved most.
"I don’t think about Talladega when I come here for a race such as this weekend, in a bad way,” he said. “I think about it as a place where I’ve done well. I think about it as a place where we need to win and we can win.”
To complete the kiss-and-make up process that all in long-term relationships know, Earnhardt said it was all his fault.
“That’s my feeling inside is, I’m supposed to be up front, and then, I get swept-up in a crash running 18th,” he said. “I didn’t do something right, and I put myself in that position at some point in the race.
“So, if I do everything I need to do, then I won’t have to worry about being swept-up in the last-lap crashes and we can go into Victory Lane and celebrate. That’s what I think about when I preparing to come here.”
Won’t that make everyone feel so much better?
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.