Friday, February 20, 2009

'Sorry' Seems To Be The Hardest Word In Junior's Vocabulary

By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange

It's bad enough that Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and others publicly criticized Dale Earnhardt Jr. for wrecking them and causing a 10-car pileup in last Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

But when Jeff Burton – known as "The Senator" in Sprint Cup racing for his level-headed style of fairness on and off the track – also chews you out for racing in a such a way that he blames you for his ultimately wrecking in another incident at Daytona, something is definitely wrong.

There's no dispute Earnhardt wrecked Vickers while both were one lap down and dramatically changed the outcome of the 500 – knocking out many of the race's leading cars at that point.

And while Burton's accusation may be a bit of a stretch, Earnhardt still continued to affirm that he did nothing wrong in either case Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., site of Sunday's Auto Club 500.

First, here's Earnhardt's latest take on the tangle with Vickers.

"My statistics at (restrictor) plate tracks speak for themselves and I don't have to really defend myself of how good a plate-racer I am and what kind of moves I make out on the race track," Earnhardt said. "I've got just as much right to be on that race track and do whatever the hell I want to do on it as anybody else out there. I'll race just as hard as I choose to race and want to race and I race people how I want to be raced. I've always raced with a lot of respect and I'll continue to do so in the future."

Junior, here's some unsolicited advice. Do with it what you want, but don't continue to be obstinate and continue to claim you did nothing wrong at Daytona.

Let's look at things again:

You're a lap down, battling a guy ahead of you who is in the same boat and you're both trying to get back on the lead lap. It's understandable that you’re a hard racer.

But at the same time, pick your spots a bit more judiciously. Don't jeopardize the rest of the field, particularly the race leaders that are alongside of you and simply minding their own business – only to end their days prematurely because you got a bit antsy, Junior.

And don't be so wishy-washy. Take your criticism like a man.

Don't say one second, "I definitely could have used better judgment coming back up on the race track," and then the next second add, "It's hard to tell (if his judgment was wrong)."

In so doing, you're just burying yourself and your case deeper with every additional word.

Still, Earnhardt kept trying to make others see what a blind man would have even criticized him for.

"I hate that it wrecked all them cars and I hate that me and (Vickers) had to get on bad terms with each other," Earnhardt said. "Those things I regret, but I'm out there racing. I've made mistakes before and probably won't be the last one that I make."

Earnhardt did admit one thing Friday: that he spoke with Vickers a few days ago to smooth things over.

"(Vickers) said it was intentional on TV," Earnhardt said. "I wanted to make sure he knew it wasn't intentional and that I didn't have a problem with him and that I wouldn't wreck him intentionally. I was just trying to clear that up with him. I think we got that cleared up."

Clearing things up with everyone else is a whole other story.

"I did get ripped up quite a bit," he admitted. "There's a lot of people that like you and there's a lot of people that don't like you. When you give them people that don't like you an opportunity, they're going to come out of the woods after you and that's just the case of what's happening this weekend."

The ironic thing in this lingering episode is that the solution is so very simple, yet Earnhardt is just too stubborn or naïve to see it. All he has to do is say he's sorry and he'd suddenly be back in the good graces of his fellow competitors, the media that vilified him after the race and his fans and non-fans alike that chastised him.

Sure, he may have called up Vickers and also chatted with Burton, but what about guys like Scott Speed and Kyle Busch, who were victimized the most by Earnhardt's run-in with Vickers?

"I wasn't going to call them all up," he joked.

Sorry, wrong time to joke about something that remains such a serious issue in the sport.

As for Vickers, he's gotten over the run-in with Earnhardt, but not the fallout.

"What has happened so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by," Vickers said. "I have to be honest with you, I almost have to apologize to the fans – I just assumed that obviously with Junior being the most popular person by far and away that this was going to be my fault no matter what happened. Everyone was going to side with him.

"The fans as a whole have been very supportive and really judged the situation based on the actions and not on anyone’s popularity. I don’t really read a lot of racing news but there’s been a lot of it sent to me this week. I saw polls where 90 percent of the fans said it was his fault and 60 percent of them claim to be his fans, which has really been a shift in popular opinion from what I’ve seen in the past. It’s really changed a lot. I think the media handled the situation a lot different than I suspected and I have to thank everyone for that."

Now, the Burton situation is a bit more convoluted. I'm half-tempted to give Earnhardt the benefit of the doubt on this one.

It was after the big pileup and racing had resumed when Earnhardt went three-wide into turn two, with Burton in one of the two cars alongside.

"There was big sense of urgency at that point of the race due to the weather, he was shuffled back and several laps later he wrecked," Earnhardt said. "(Burton) was like, 'Man, you doing what you did put me in that position (to wreck) 10 laps later.' I'm like, 'What? I can't be responsible for that.'

"That's not my responsibility. How can you pin that on me like that? We sat there and debated my ethics and my values and all those things and ended up agreeing that I'm not a jerk and don't race like a jerk. He was just kind of hot under the collar a little bit."

But still, when you tick off one of the most fair-minded guys in the sport, whether he was right or wrong in accusing you of something, discretion is the better part of valor.

Admit you screwed up, take your lumps and move on. Don't continue to moan how much you were maligned and how you feel all the criticism is unfair.

Heck, you brought it on yourself with your words and actions, Junior. Not anyone else – just you.

Needless to say, Sunday's second race of the season, the Auto Club 500, should be very interesting. Earnhardt is going to find out who his friends still are and aren't real fast.

But it sure wouldn't hurt to do what he should have done last Sunday and simply say, "I'm sorry."


  1. I am a Junior fan, but I agree he could have handled this a bit better. Clearly the prudent thing to do would have been to lift a bit and get back in line. I didn't like the way Vickers blocked him either, but I guess when one is racing in the biggest race of the year at speeds that would send most of us screaming for a motion sickness bag, I tend to give Jr. the benefit of the doubt on what he was thinking at the time it happened. Yes, he was mad, but split seconds separated the block and the punt. I still can't say the same thing wouldn't have happened with me behind the wheel. I do think that the PR could have used a little work, but maybe this is a new Jr. we are seeing, with a renewed (or just new) sense of vigor?

  2. Junior didnt cause that wreck vickers did

  3. I think Jr. did the right thing by calling Vickers but I also think he shocked by backlash he received and felt the need to admit it to public. This is the first time Jr. has been on that side of the fence and he did seem to like it much.

  4. i'm sick of the media trying to stir the pot for thier personal gain. That was an attempt to block that was attemted to late by vickers and the rest is history

  5. Are you kiddding me? Dale Jr has always admitted when he made a mistake. Interesting that you did not write Burton's comments after he talked to Dale Jr. Dale Jr's problem is that he is so honest and say what he really feels and not what is the "right" answer. He is also right when he said he is to nice. I hate the wreck happened but I loved seeing the fire from him afterward.

  6. You'll have the Jr. Apologists in a complete uproar with this article.


  7. Dude, if your going to give an opinion with all these quotes and structure them in a way to benefit that opinion, fine. But this is also a quote from Jeff Burton. Personally I want to read about the sport and not this "He should have just said sorry" Oprah stuff!! Damn it's over so report racing, not your feelings!! Here's the Burton quote.

    BURTON: "We all make mistakes. There's not a driver in this garage that hasn't caused a wreck and hasn't been in a wreck that they were responsible for. If anybody thinks that there's any driver in here that's immune to that, is wrong. We are people. We make mistakes. We are trying exceptionally hard to succeed in the sport. When you put a lot of effort, a lot of desire and a lot of dedicaiton, you're going to have accidents.

    "It's not like Junior is a constant problem. It's not like Junior causes a bunch of wrecks. It's not like he doens't have respect. He's one of the most respectful drivers out there. He and I had an incident in the 500, I was upset about it, he and I had a great conversation because I respect him, he respects me. Junior has a lot of respect for the history of the sport, has a lot of respect for the other drivers but he's going to make mistakes. Same way Jimmie Johnson is. Same way Tony Stewart is. Same way I am. We make mistakes. The question is how many do you make, and Junior doesn't make a lot of them.''

  8. If you look back over the past 10 years of Jr's career, you won't find anyone who has been more willing to take the blame for a wreck than Jr. Some of those wrecks he shouldn't have taken the blame for, and some he should. Vickers comments on TV seemed like a guy with a memory shorter than certain parts of his anatomy, and Bush...well that was down right commical. That goofy looking little punk has caused more wrecks than alcohol, so if I were him I'd use the old "that's racin" line and keep my pie whole shut, because that kind of criticism from him just makes him look even dumber. As for this article, I don't know exactly what you want. Jr accepted responsibility, much more than most would. If he didn't use the exact words you wanted, I'll say it for him...SORRY!

  9. Let's face it...The accident wouldn't have happened if Vickers wouldn't have try that aggressive block.

  10. What is it with sports writers wanting to see popular athletes fail. Your brand of circular, tabloid thinking just keeps the pot surely doesn't shed any intelligent light on the situation. I think you just like to read your own press. BTW Jerry, how's the job hunt going?

  11. Dear Jerry,
    You are unbelievable!!! Jr. has always been overrated in your book and you can't wait to jump on him when he makes a mistake or doesn't win etc. How about Kyle Bush?? He has made statements he doesn't care if he wrecks drivers as long as he wins. No apologies there!! You don't berate him every chance you get.
    I do have to say I miss you on Yahoo!! It just isn't the same without you and Bob Margolis!!!
    Barbara Stelter

  12. Junior can do whatever he wants and should never have to explain why he did it, especially at Daytona. His father is dead and I saw the crash that took him. It almost makes me feel as though Junior is my brother and that is a bond that cannot be broken. We can't help that he just so happens to be the best racer ever!

  13. Nicely put, Jerry.

    Jr. is a man of good character, but he through a temper-snit and messed up a lot of people's days. He needs to man up and take responsibility.

    He also needs to grasp that if he's a lapped car he is not in contention for the win and needs to show the "respect for the leaders" that he expects lapped traffic to show him when he's one of those leaders.

  14. Well, if Jr. can do anything he wants at Daytona just because his dad died there, lets just have the other 42 drivers stay home, let him run around the track by himself and give him the win. How stupid! He can't race like an idiot just because he's done well there before. I'm sure the other drivers were consoled by his "stats" at Daytona as they looked at their wrecked cars. Jr. doesn't think he did anything wrong, he just doesn't like having everyone rip on him. He values that MPD award way to much to ever drive hard enough to win a championship. The Nation can whine and spin all they want but when media, fans and DRIVERS are ripping on him, HE DID SOMETHING WRONG! He has always before taken responsibility if he made a mistake. Because he didn't this time, is what made a lot of people mad. By not holding him 5 laps like Leffler, NASCAR sent a sign, sealed and delivered declaration that Jr. lives and races by different rules than everyone else. The sad part is that apparently Jr. is believing that also.

  15. Jerry,
    Were you actually there listening to the kid? Your report is so bias and has left out so many points.
    If you are going to use Jeff Burton's views get the whole quote. I am sure you might find the whole interview on line and listen to it since if you were there you listened with your usual selective hearing.

  16. Jerry,

    You probably know that I am a Jr. fan. That being said, if the shoe was on the other foot, how would Jr. have acted? Jr. doesn't understand why people are coming down on him so hard? Are you kidding! I have to give Bush some credit. In years past his mouth would have been flapping all week, but not this time. If the roles were reversed and it was Bush and Vickers that got into it; WOW, I don't know what that would have been like...Accept your lumps, apologize for your errors, and move on.

  17. For Anon who said "why don't the just leave the other 42 cars at home and let jr run the race by himself?"

    If I weren't watching TV and only had the sound from FOXTV on, I'd think that would be exactly what was happening.

    If Vickers had hit Jr. after being blocked, the Jr. nation would want Vickers parked for the remainder of the year.

    I just wonder how many different ways Jr. will find to lose races this year and what Jr. nations excuses will be???

  18. jr is a jerk. nascar should park him forever and ban his fans from ever coming to the track. they are what is wrong with nascar.

  19. "Junior can do whatever he wants and should never have to explain why he did it, especially at Daytona. His father is dead and I saw the crash that took him. It almost makes me feel as though Junior is my brother and that is a bond that cannot be broken. We can't help that he just so happens to be the best racer ever!"

    Now that's the most ludicrous thing I've ever read in 40+ years of following NASCAR racing. In other words, if Jr raped or murdered a member of your family he "can do whatever he wants and should never have to explain why he did it"!?! In other words, if another driver were to be killed by Jr's actions at Daytona, it would be justified because his dad died there??

    The only bond you have with Jr is being his fan. It's obvious that you're totally clueless about racing & have some unnatural attachment to Jr.You really need to get a life & lay off that Mountain Dew AMP for your own well being. As for "the best racer ever", please!! he's had ten years to make something of himself & has proven to be little more than an average driver, & certainly nowhere near the level of his father, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond, Mark Martin, or countless others I can name. There's 30 Cup championships among the first 7 drivers I mentioned there, compared to how many by Jr? Zilch, zero, nada, none.

    Being a fan is fine, being so obsessive about someone like this is mentally unhealthy.

  20. i'm surprised no one has talked about the time when vickers won his first race. anybody remember? he wrecked both jr and jimmie johnson who were running one and two and went on to crying....jr infact said he was happy for him which i couldn't believe. what happened at the 500 was that vickers tried to throw a block was unsuccessful. he drove over jr's.front end.

  21. Hey bigal, your right! I don't think anyone has made that connection. You must really pay attention and take notes during the races. Why don't you bring a couple of your bigal friends over to watch the race at my house and we can all take notes?

  22. I'm at a loss to see how anyone could blame Jr after seeing the in car footage. Vickers swung rapidly down and hit Jr. Jr just straightened up getting his car back in control and hit Vickers in the process.

    I'm sick to death of how people block at plate tracks. It makes me sick. I don't care who does it, Jr, Stewart, Vickers, Busch. However does it is a dangerous fool. And any accident that results from this action is the FAULT of the idiot that did the block.

    People keep saying Smith should have held his ground at Dega last year what Steward was driving like a scum bag fool. What do you think would have happened if Smith had? Exactly what freaking happened at Daytona when Jr held his ground.

    Vickers is the one that ought to apologize.


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