NASCAR & Auto Racing

Earnhardt Jr.: 'My fault, totally'

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- No fingers to point, no conspiracies to dream up.

Any Dale Earnhardt Inc. fan who might think anything fishy is going on as Martin Truex Jr. tries to stay in and Dale Earnhardt Jr. attempts to claw his way back into the Chase for the Nextel Cup is off base. Just ask Earnhardt Jr.

The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, whose Chase hopes took a hit with his finish in Tuesday's 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway, took 100 percent of the blame for a costly late-race miscue on pit road.

"My fault, totally," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Earnhardt Jr. said he saw Jeff Green's crew changing a tire on the No. 66 Chevrolet as Earnhardt Jr. came in for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 168.

"I thought I pitted past him but I was two stalls before him," Earnhardt Jr. said. "When you come down pit road and guys are anywhere near your stall you look and see if they're jacked up on the left because if they get dropped and pull out you can have a crash. You don't want to do that. I was just looking at that and I drove right by my pit."

By the time Earnhardt Jr. got the No. 8 Chevrolet stopped and backed up into position for his team to make their stop, he'd lost valuable time and track position. After having worked his way into the top five, he wound up finishing 12th.

The error was compounded as Kurt Busch, the driver who's currently holding the final Chase spot, went on to win for the second time in three races and widen the gap the Earnhardt Jr. now has only three more races to work on.

Earnhardt Jr. moved ahead of Ryan Newman to 13th in the standings, but still fell 63 points further behind Busch at the cutoff. Earnhardt Jr. is now 163 points behind Busch.

"It's not frustrating," Earnhardt Jr. said. "When they beat you fair you can't. ... You've got to take it like a man."

Earnhardt Jr. had suffered two engine failures in the three races prior to this rain-plagued event, and had to start this race from the rear of the field after a transmission change between practices on Saturday. With Earnhardt Jr. leaving DEI at season's end, that led some to ponder if all of that might be more than coincidence?

After all, Truex is staying at DEI for 2008, and he's the driver immediately ahead of Busch in the standings.

Truex did all he could to add room between himself and his teammate, coming in behind Busch for his second Michigan runner-up finish of 2007. Truex is 33 points ahead of Busch and 196 ahead of Earnhardt Jr. in the fight to stay above the Chase water line.

"Great day," Truex said. "I could smell the victory, but congratulations to Kurt."

Truex lost the clutch in his No. 1 Chevrolet late in the race, which made his decision to stay out while others pitted on a late-race caution an easy one.

"I was going to get killed on pit road, so we got some clean air and that thing just went to digging," he said. Truex had a couple of tries to get Busch on late restarts, but wound up working more to hold off Jimmie Johnson for the No. 2 spot.