Talladega takes its toll, but Earnhardt rides to the finish

Steve Hummer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Auto Racing

He admitted to a sense of relief just to have gotten through Sunday less dented than his ride. Remember that a severe concussion cost him the bulk of last season, and raised the specter of lasting damage.

"This was one I was worried about. You know, in the back of my mind I was a little concerned," Earnhardt admitted afterward.

"But you can't win the race if you race scared. I've raced scared here before, and you don't do well when that happens. So, you have to block it out and just go out there and take the risks and hope that it's just not your day to get in one of those accidents. And it wasn't."

For a good part of the day, Earnhardt could not claim that his superior talent or innate ability at Talladega played crucial roles. "Ain't nothing I'm doing. I'm just not getting hit," he said.

With the relief that came with not getting hit (hard) also came a measure of disappointment, he said. He hoped all those in the seats who spent their weekend in the garden spot of Talladega didn't feel cheated that he had failed to do something really memorable.

"I know these folks were hoping we could put something together," he said. "I know there's a lot of folks who came here particularly to see this race because it's the last one here. I hate to leave slightly disappointed. But hopefully they enjoyed everything else they saw. I mean, we ran as hard as we could and did the best that we could."

Earnhardt qualified for the pole Sunday, led for seven laps, stayed intact through to the finish, which on this day was a defying-the-odds accomplishment. Hardly a total loss.

There are five more races to run before the end of the season. Earnhardt's no longer the competitive factor he was -- it has been 50 races for him since his last victory. He has his health. It is definitely time to put up his feet -- both the regular one and the lead one -- on a comfortable stool and let someone else deal the mayhem.

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