Dale Jr. looks at the bright side of rough finish
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fast enough in practices leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 that he should have thought of himself as a contender. His results over the last three years made that impossible.
''I wasn't confident this weekend,'' Earnhardt said. ''Even though the lap times were great and the car was really good, I was thinking, 'Yeah, yeah, I've seen this before. We'll see what really happens.'''
It was under that thinking that left Earnhardt relaxed and even cracking a smile or two after running out of gas on the final lap while holding the lead Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It turned a victory into a seventh place finish and extended his winless streak to 105 races.
''I almost won this race,'' a sweaty Earnhardt said next to his car in the garage moments after the stunning finish. ''Next time I come back here I'll be more confident when I show up.''
Earnhardt insisted he wasn't crushed by the finish and Kevin Harvick's surprising victory. He said he knew he didn't have enough gas to finish the race, and actually ran out on the backstretch. His car didn't slow until the final turn.
The closest he's come to a victory since winning at Michigan in 2008 didn't dampen the enthusiasm of his supporters, who burst into cheers when he appeared for an interview on the giant video screen after the race.
''What can you do?'' he said. ''We came close. I hate it for our fans. All the people who come out here and support us. They put so much into it and we were trying so hard to win a race and give themselves something to cheer about. We're going to keep working.''
NATIONAL GUARD'S BAD LUCK: There were plenty of similarities to the end of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. JR Hildebrand wrecked in the final turn to give up the lead at Indy and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final lap at Charlotte to lose the lead.
The other thing that ties them together: They're both sponsored by the National Guard.
''It's tough, two races today for National Guard,'' Earnhardt said. ''I hope they don't feel too slighted by the fortunes we had.''
While Earnhardt shook off his heartbreaking loss by saying he knew he was going to run out of gas, he seemed more distress with Hildebrand's mistake that cost the 23-year-old rookie the win at the Brickyard.
''That kid did a lot this morning in the Indy race,'' Earnhardt said. ''They should be real proud of their efforts and how close they came. It's just an unfortunate situation for him passing the lapped car there.
''But when he goes back he'll have the confidence that he didn't have when he showed up. Me, too.''
KYLE BUSCH'S WOES: The NASCAR week kicked off with the jarring news of Kyle Busch being ticketed for driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone on a public road.
The week ended with the strange sight of Busch having trouble with an ill-handling car and falling out of contention in the Coca-Cola 600.
''Honestly, Kyle was just trying to make something out of nothing,'' said crew chief Dave Rogers, who indicated the car was so much trouble to control in traffic ''we couldn't get out of our own way.''
Busch led twice for 61 laps early in the race before running into problems over the final 100 laps. The first mishap came when he spun out and skidded into the frontstretch. He was able to avoid damaging the front of his car and later returned to the track.
He wasn't out long.
Busch soon lost control of his car again and hit the outside wall. He came back to the track briefly, but struggled to keep the car going straight and was soon in the garage.
''Kyle just tried to do the impossible and that's why we love him,'' Rogers said. ''We know he gives us 100 percent and he doesn't ever leave any on the table. Tonight he just tried to take a little bit too much and it got away from him. That's part of racing.''
BIFFLE'S WILD NIGHT: Greg Biffle began the race hot and miserable. He finished it cool, collected - and nearly in Victory Lane.
The cooling device in Biffle's car picked a bad time to stop working - with the track temperature approaching 140 degrees at the beginning of the race. As the crew talked of how to try to replace the device, he was given bags of ice and water on his first pit stop.
But that stop ended with him speeding off pit road, leading to a pass-through penalty as the team scrambled David Stremme to be a standby driver if Biffle couldn't handle the heat.
Biffle later was angered when he thought they were going to replace his cooling system on another stop, only to work on another part of the car.
''You guys are something else. Unbelievable,'' Biffle said on the radio. ''I don't know the plan.''
Biffle finally took an extended stop about halfway through the race to fix the cooling system - dropping to 34th place - before beginning a slow climb to the front.
Biffle shot to the lead with 50 laps to go and was in front until he had to come in to put late and finished 13th.
UP IN SMOKE: In a single lap, Jamie McMurray went from being in the lead to out of the race with a blown engine.
With a paint scheme that helped promote the tornado victims of his hometown of Joplin, Mo., McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet led five laps after a caution midway through the race when Matt Kenseth passed him.
Seconds later, McMurray's engine blew, billowing white smoke out of the back of his car to mark the end of his night.
McMurray and his family moved to North Carolina more than a decade ago, but he still has some friends in the city devastated by the May 22 tornado that claimed more than 130 lives. One friend sent McMurray a picture showing his leveled childhood home.
McMurray's car had the words ''Joplin, Mo., on the side, and the driver is planning to tour the city on Thursday.
''Hopefully, we made some people proud,'' McMurray said. ''I know they need some cheering up right now.''
SOME BAD GRASS: Apparently you can't putt on the grass off the frontstretch at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Or drive a car through it.
A week after Carl Edwards' All-Star race celebration turned sour when he ran into a dip and ruined the front end of his car, Landon Cassill's night ended early in similar fashion.
Cassill made contact with Regan Smith's car on lap 302 of 400 and spun into the grass. Cassill then ran over a bump, went airborne and the front end of his No. 09 Chevrolet slammed into the grass, tearing up the turf and his car.
The splitter was ruined and he couldn't steer the car, which came to rest after bumping the wall on pit road.
LUG NUTS: Ricky Stenhouse finished 11th in his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 21 Ford filling in for Trevor Bayne. ... Fox Sports again used a split screen during commercial breaks late in its telecast so fans could still see the cars on the track. ... Master Sgt. William ''Spanky'' Gibson, the first U.S. service member to return to the front line after losing a leg, gave the race command. He returned to Iraq with a prosthetic leg in 2008 after being injured in sniper fire two years earlier. ... Health and wellness company AdvoCare announced a multiyear deal to be the title sponsor for the Sept. 4 Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.