One of the most bizarre outcomes in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 26th-place finish, which the third-generation driver acknowledged came about because he ran conservatively at the end. Very, very conservatively.

Earnhardt led three times for 26 laps, second only to the 58 laps led by Greg Biffle, the runner-up finisher to race-winner Denny Hamlin. But Earnhardt never led after Lap 151 of the 188-lap race. He pitted for fuel on Lap 152, coming back on track in 13th place.

And in the closing stages of the race, Earnhardt hung well back of the leaders, convinced there would be at least one more accident..

Finally, with two laps to go, Earnhardt worked his way up to about 15th place when he got abruptly cut off by Josh Wise and fell back.

“You know they're going to crash and I can't afford to wreck anymore here. So, you've just got to pick your battles.”

And that was that.

Earnhardt fell back and finished 26th.

Afterward, Earnhardt said he was in no mood to take chances, especially since he already has a race victory this season and is all but assured of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"It's hard to drive up through there," Earnhardt said. "The track is three-wide forever. You know they're going to crash and I can't afford to wreck anymore here. So, you've just got to pick your battles.

"And I felt like we were better off not getting in a wreck and trying to stay back there. And if we had an opportunity to get a run, we took it; but that one we had just got blocked by the No. 98 (Wise) and with two (laps) to go, you're not going to get another run."

Earnhardt crashed here in the fall race in 2012 and suffered the second of two concussions he received that year. After that Talladega race, he sat out the next two races to recover. Perhaps that weighed on his mind in this race.

Asked if the reward of making an aggressive run at the end of the race was worth the risk, Earnhardt was blunt.

"Not to me," he said. "We already got a win and like I said, I've been in too many late-race wrecks. I didn't want to be no part of it. And there were three or four there we dodged pretty good. So, we've got a car in one piece. We'll go to Daytona. You've just got to have the strategy right to where we're up front at the end of these races and in the lead or around the top three or four there, inside the last fuel window, to have a shot at it."