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CHICAGO -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. took his name out of the running for head honcho of NASCAR Thursday, a decision he said was based in part on the collective fallout of this past weekend's race at Richmond.
"I definitely don't need to be running this sport," Earnhardt Jr., clad in his white and red driver's uniform, said.
Such talk from the sport's most popular driver -- No. 1 at the box office and souvenir hauler -- no doubt has them breathing a little easier in Daytona Beach.
His remark was only partly in jest. Earnhardt Jr. has been track president for a day (Daytona, circa 2004), but isn't ready to give up his racing career.
It's been an eventful week for NASCAR. Questions about the finish at Richmond, penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing that resulted in a change to the 12-team Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, and inquiries into possible collusion between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports have dominated headlines.
This weekend's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway kicks off the 10-race charge to the title. On Thursday, much of the focus was elsewhere.
"I wouldn't want to be in that situation," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said of the ruling body. "I don't think I could handle it as well as they did.
"As much as everybody's got an ? opinion on what they would have done ? I don't know that I could handle those types of situations because it's not been a fun week for them."
Earnhardt Jr. was the only competitor sporting his workday clothing. All 12 drivers present at the Navy Pier for this year's Chase media day were wearing their fire-retardant uniforms.
Anticipating a heated line of questioning from the media? Not quite.
Actually, it was for an updated photo of those in the Chase. Last Saturday's Richmond photo -- captured on stage following the race -- no longer passed muster once Martin Truex Jr. got the boot and Ryan Newman was added to the lineup.
The fan response to the week's proceedings, particularly what transpired at Richmond, caught Earnhardt Jr. by surprise.
"I'm surprised that this surprised so many people," he said. "People didn't think it was happening or were so surprised that this went on."
It's a new twist to a familiar occurrence. Playing fast and loose with the rules has typically been a one-driver endeavor.
"In the past it's been one guy with the flat tire that gets the caution, or that's lost the draft at Talladega and is throwing roll bar padding out the window or something like that," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We've all done that or thought about doing it. It's definitely a new twist on things."
Did NASCAR do the right thing with its penalties to MWR? Earnhardt Jr. said he isn't sure. What was important, he said, was that they took action, something he'd like see more of in the future.
"It's important for them to govern," he said. "We need them to make themselves known and they need to be the boss. We need to know that they're there."
What about those involved, implicated or impacted by what has transpired? He said he feels bad for all of them -- MWR drivers Clint Bowyer, Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers. Hendrick Teammate Jeff Gordon, too.
Truex Jr., once a teammate when the two were paired at Dale Earnhardt Inc., "probably had no idea what was going on," Earnhardt Jr. said.
"You feel bad for Jeff (Gordon) because he had worked his way all night long to get into a (Chase) position.
"I feel bad for Clint. I know Clint and I know what kind of person he is. I feel bad for him because he was part of something that is not a good reflection of his personality. It's unfortunate. But he'll be fine.
"It's a unique thing. It's a very fascinating situation."
Fascinating, yes. But similar to other things that have transpired in the sport, it has a limited shelf life.
Chicagoland and the Chase beckon.
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