For about the first 71 laps, Las Vegas was one hell of a race for Dale Earnhardt Jr., since he led 70 of them. In a single afternoon, he totaled more laps led than he did in all of 2011.
But then a four-tire stop when many others took just two buried him back in the pack, and he was never able to get back to the lead. He cited a few problems, like tight handling, but overall just couldn't transition from running in clean air to running in traffic.
Still, there was one particular low point, when he rammed hard into former teammate Mark Martin, who proceeded to give him a little guff right back. To hear Junior tell it, though, respect for one's elders goes only so far.
"To me, personally, there is an unwritten etiquette ... when the guy is running the top," Earnhardt said. "I'm coming ten miles an hour faster off the top of the race track, you stay low. Don't knock a half second off my lap time being a jerk about it. Stay low. You are going to get it in the next corner and the position is going to be yours. Don't pull up in front of somebody when they are going to come off the corner ten miles an hour faster."
Martin, alas, did not offer any reply; his only postrace quotes both live and on Twitter were of the "rough day, should've been better" variety. Martin would end up 18th on the afternoon, dropping him four spots to 10th in the standings.
"I didn't really mean to put him in the wall, but from the cosmetic standpoint it didn't look like it hurt his car," Earnhardt said. "I was pretty frustrated at the moment before that happened, and that just kind of really sent me over the edge there. We just want to win really bad and felt like we should have finished better than we did today."
Earnhardt, for his part, now sits fourth in the standings. Now, fire away, Junior Nation and Anti-Junior Nation.
- Mark Martin