Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Updated: May 11, 11:55 AM ET
Dale Earnhardt Jr. apologizes to team
By David Newton
CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. called a team meeting following Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway and apologized for his pit road mistake that cost the team a top 10 finish -- and possibly a win.
Earnhardt was running sixth coming to pit road with 38 laps remaining when he came in too fast and hit the commitment cone, knocking it onto the track. Because he wasn't all the way inside the cone, NASCAR's most popular driver was given a pass-through penalty under green conditions, dropping him to 21st.
Despite rallying to finish 14th and maintaining his position of fourth in the points standings, Earnhardt felt bad enough about his mistake to gather his team and apologize.
"It was a good thing to do, especially immediately after the event, to clear the air," Earnhardt said on Tuesday during an iRacing demonstration at Charlotte Motor Speedway to show off the world's largest HD screen. "That way nobody goes home wondering what anyone's thinking.
"They know how I feel and I know how they feel. It was just a good way to put it behind us as quick as we could."
Earnhardt knew the penalty was coming as soon as he hit the cone. He said crew chief Steve Letarte and the rest of his team told him post-apology that they "were fine and they understood."
"We hold team meetings every day in the hauler and before the races," Earnhardt said. "Steve does all the talking and I really don't talk that much. So I felt like I needed to get vocal right there for a second.
"I made a mistake getting on pit road and I wanted to tell the guys that my focus was strong, it wasn't because there was a lack of focus or lack of concentration, [and] that I'll try to minimize my mistakes going forward and to continue working hard and loading up great race cars."
The mistake limited Earnhardt on his strategy at the end of the race. Eventual winner Regan Smith was running sixth when he elected to stay out after caution came out with 10 laps remaining, putting him in the lead and eventually Victory Lane.
"We've had top-10 racecars at every race we've showed up to," said Earnhardt, who needs to win Sunday's race at Dover to guarantee a spot in the May 21st All-Star Race at CMS. "I'm real, real proud of that and I want to keep that momentum going. So as soon as we can put the mistakes that I made [Saturday] behind us the better.
"I was so upset. We had worked so hard to get to where we were."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.