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article imageNASCAR: Earnhardt takes 'emotional' ride to Victory Circle

By John Duarte     May 4, 2015 in Sports
Talladega - Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't hide his emotions after winning his first race of the Sprint Cup Series season at a track that holds such history not only for NASCAR, but for his family as well.
The Earnhardt name is cherish at Talladega Superspeedway. Dale Earnhardt Sr. had 10 of his 76 career wins at the Alabama track and Junior now has won six of his 24 there, including a stretch of four straight between 2001 and 2003. The last time Earnhardt Jr. won at Talladega prior to Sunday's Geico 500 was in 2004. He recalled that and the fact his late father would have turned 64 the previous Wednesday.
“I haven't won here in a long time. It was my daddy's birthday was a couple of days ago. I’m just real emotional,” Junior said. “Everything is so good for me right now. I don't know why I don't feel like I deserve it. I just feel overcome with a lot of emotion. I'm just blessed.”
Earnhardt admitted that he doesn't think about his father “that much,” but he did on this afternoon.
“Today, it made me think about his birthday, how much I miss him, how much he meant to me,' he said. “All I ever want to do is make him proud. I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful, that's exactly what we're doing.”
Earnhardt hadn't been dominant at Talladega for a long time, including last year when he had disastrous results in the two races, placing 26th and 31st respectively. He said was “just really, really ashamed” of the overly cautious approach he had taken in his last trip to Talladega and said it taught him to always race to win.
“If I wreck, we're going to be racing for the lead or trying to anyways,” said Earnhardt. “That's my mentality till I don't race anymore.”
The emotion of the day was especially evident during the closing laps of the race. Jimmie Johnson was one of the drivers pressing Earnhardt. The leader said he was keeping an eye on the drivers behind him, while also looking forward toward the end goal. At the checkered flag, the margin of victory was 0.159 seconds. For Johnson, being part of a line of cars that made the end of the Geico 500 seem like a parade and finishing second was a good thing. He was happy cooler heads prevailed at a track notorious for huge wrecks.
“You work all day long to be in that position. You just frankly don't want to mess it up,” he said. “With everybody running the top, over the years of having that situation at the end, being aggressive has bit me many times. I was trying to be patient as I possibly could.
“Very happy with the finish. I don't know what I could have done differently to win,” Johnson continued. “I'm just really happy I didn't screw it up because I've done that plenty of times coming down to the finish.”
Paul Menard finished third in the race.
It was nearly an uneventful race, by Talladega standards. There were only six caution periods, for a total of 23 laps under yellow. No Talladega race feels complete with the usual “big wreck” and Sunday afternoon's came on Lap 47, when one of the cars jockeying for position made contact with the outside wall and 14 other competitors were caught up in the melee.
Kevin Harvick continues to lead the Sprint Cup standings. He is 40 points ahead of Martin Truex Jr. Johnson's second-place finish on Sunday vaults him into third in the drivers' standings.
Kansas Speedway is next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar. The Spongebob Squarepants 400 will race under the lights on May 9, 2015.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, Talladega superspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson
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