TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his race car following a race at Talladega Superspeedway, he had some biting comments for the wild, crash-filled racing that had just unfolded.
Bloodthirsty. That's what he called those that enjoyed the dangerous events that often develop on the series' biggest and baddest track, a 2.66-mile ribbon of asphalt that provides packs of cars the room to run three- and four-wide at speeds of 195 mph or more.
He said if that type of racing took place every week, he'd find another line of work.
He was angry. He was ailing. He had suffered his second concussion in barely one month's time, the result of getting swept up in a multi-car crash on the final lap of the Oct. 7 Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
Now, some seven months later and two days before NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series lines up once again for an afternoon of restrictor-plate mayhem, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is a bit less critical.
"Well, I hate to put the blame on the concussion, but 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," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday. "And so I was really angry with that because I had spent four weeks to get to where I could feel like I was great.
"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."
A 19-time winner in Cup, and the series most popular driver for 10 years running, Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in a crash while testing at Kansas Speedway in August of 2012. A little more than one month later, he was hurt again when his No. 88 Chevrolet was swept up in a 25-car pileup on the final lap at Talladega.
The injuries sidelined Earnhardt Jr. for two races, Charlotte and Kansas, and erased any hopes of contending for the Chase For The Sprint Cup title. He plummeted from seventh in the standings to 12th by the time he returned to the seat three weeks later at Martinsville.
"I don't care if I'm in the crash and out of the race, but to get out of the car and feel concussed and feel like, 'Oh shoot man, now I've got to go through the process again' and 'you're not supposed to have them close together' and all this stuff so you just have all kinds of worry running through your mind," he said. "It had me really, really angry and not myself, obviously.
"So, I've regretted that. I've regretted making those comments and I think I overreacted and overstated my feelings quite a bit. It's frustrating when you run around and we spend all day running 495 miles and then crash in the last five (miles). The whole field crashes. It's really frustrating to sort of accept that. ? That's hard to wrap your brain around."
A five-time winner at Talladega (including four in a row from 2001-03), the 38-year-old Earnhardt Jr. is much more at ease today, he said, as he and his team prepare for the series' second restrictor-plate race of the season.
"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. I know what I need to do to win at places like this and we can make it a good weekend.
"And if I drive the way I need to drive, I'm not in position to be in a wreck. I'm up front where I'm supposed to be. That's my feeling inside ? I'm supposed to be up front."
Fourth in the points standings, Earnhardt Jr. had the best 10-lap average in Friday's opening practice for Sunday's Aaron's 499 and posted the 12th fastest single-lap time. He was 23rd in the afternoon session.
Qualifying for Sunday's race is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
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