Sunday, May 4, 2008


The dejection was evident from the moment Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepped out of his car. He was leading and pulling away from second-place driver Kyle Busch with less than 10 laps to go in Saturday night’s race at Richmond. Denny Hamlin's deflating tire gave him the lead, but it also led to a deflating loss.

Desperately searching for a caution, Hamlin’s tire finally blew and he stopped on the track to force NASCAR to throw the yellow flag. Officials penalized him two laps for stopping on the track, but it helped Busch, his Joe Gibbs teammate. When they started racing again, Busch went low on Earnhardt and they bumped in Turn 3. Junior spun and finished 15th while Busch finished second to Clint Bowyer.

The tone in Junior’s voice during the post-race interview is something I have not seen from NASCAR’s most popular driver since the day his daddy died in 2001. Quite frankly, he appeared to be on the verge of tears. And who can blame him?

I’m sure Busch is now the whipping boy for Earnhardt Nation. But after watching the replay, it was clear he did not mean to crash Junior. He apologized and Junior lamented that he thinks Busch may have got a little loose. That didn’t ease the agony of a winless streak that has gone far too long – Two years … 72 races … and counting.

"As mad as I am about that situation and as much as is going to be made of it in the coming week, the real injustice is this team didn't get what they deserved,” Earnhardt said.

That does not change the fact that Richmond put on another fantastic show. Sure, the first 375 were boring, but those last 25 were worth the wait. A three-wide pass for the lead and bumping to the finish is why fans keep coming back the little track in Virginia’s capital.

Unfortunately, the great ending was of little solace to Earnhardt. Instead it was a curse.

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