Earn­hardt blames self for Clash de­bate en­ter­ing to­day’s Brick­yard.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

INDIANAPOLIS — Dale Earn­hardt Jr. made his own state­ment Satur­day.

He de­fended his wife’s Twit­ter post — and blamed him­self for putting her in a po­si­tion where she felt she had to speak out.

Five days af­ter Amy Earn­hardt wrote it wouldn’t be “worth the risk” to see her hus­band com­pete in next year’s Clash at Day­tona, the driver ex­plained out­siders don’t un­der­stand what the fam­ily en­dured as he re­cov­ered from con­cus­sion-re­lated symp­toms last year.

“She’s been there for ev­ery­thing,” Earn­hardt, 42, said. “A lot of folks that may have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion about it weren’t there through the whole process. If any­one knows how dif­fi­cult it was be­side me, it would be her. It wasn’t a lot of fun for her.”

Earn­hardt spoke about six hours be­fore mak­ing his fi­nal Brick­yard 400 qual­i­fy­ing run at Indianapolis.

The se­ries’ most pop­u­lar driver an­nounced in April that he would re­tire af­ter this sea­son, in part be­cause of his in­jury his­tory. Two big crashes last sum­mer forced him out of the fi­nal 18 races, and he missed two races dur­ing the 2012 play­offs also be­cause of con­cus­sion-re­lated symp­toms.

But Earn­hardt ap­peared to re­open the pos­si­bil­ity of re­turn­ing to Day­tona af­ter win­ning the pole there three weeks ago, his first since Septem­ber 2013. To be el­i­gi­ble, driv­ers must win at least one pole dur­ing the pre­vi­ous sea­son, be a pre­vi­ous Clash win­ner or be a for­mer Day­tona 500 pole-win­ner who still com­petes full-time on the Cup se­ries.

On a re­cent pod­cast, Earn­hardt said he told team owner Rick Hen­drick that com­pet­ing in the Clash would be some­thing his wife “needed to warm up to.”

She hasn’t so far. “I’ve re­ceived many com­ments on Dale Jr run­ning the 2018 Clash based on whether or not I give my bless­ing,” she wrote Tues­day night. “Con­sid­er­ing his strug­gles last fall with his in­jury, we are very blessed that he is now healthy, happy and able to en­joy his fi­nal sea­son…and hope­fully many years be­yond rac­ing. So my an­swer is sim­ple. It’s not worth the risk to his health.”

While some Earn­hardt fans were up­set with the re­sponse, the driver said his wife felt she needed to take her opin­ion to the pub­lic.

He also sug­gested his im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion fol­low­ing the pole-win­ning run left his wife in a tough spot.

“It sounds like a great idea right off the bat, but maybe it’s not worth it,” Earn­hardt said, ex­plain­ing the Clash has a higher crash rate than other NASCAR races. “I feel much more in con­trol of my own fate in the re­main­der of this sea­son and any­thing I do be­yond that, than I do be­ing out there in the Clash, to be hon­est with you. But if it’s some­thing she feels strongly about, we have to sit down and I have to hear her out.”

Even if he doesn’t com­pete in the 2018 sea­son-open­ing race, Earn­hardt in­tends to com­pete in two Xfin­ity Se­ries races next sea­son and plans to be in­volved in the sport in other ways.

And his vis­i­bil­ity may not be lim­ited only to NASCAR tracks.

One thing on Earn­hardt’s Bucket List: At­tend­ing his first Indianapolis 500.

But first, Earn­hardt wants to give his fam­ily an­other way to cel­e­brate his farewell tour — join­ing Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. as the only fa­ther-son tandems to ever win at Indy.

“It would be awe­some to win one of the big, key races,” he said. “It’s a race I think all of the driv­ers think is im­por­tant to the se­ries, and it’s right up there with the Day­tona 500 in terms of im­por­tance.”

XFIN­ITY SE­RIES Rookie holds off Me­nard

INDIANAPOLIS — Rookie Wil­liam By­ron bobbed and weaved through the fi­nal two laps Satur­day and held off Paul Me­nard to win the NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries race at Indianapolis.

The vic­tory mar­gin of 0.108 sec­onds was the nar­row­est in race his­tory. Joey Logano was third, more than three sec­onds be­hind.

Kyle Busch fin­ished 12th, fail­ing in his bid to be­come the first driver to win five con­sec­u­tive races on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval.

By­ron, 19, has won three of his last five starts, the last two at Day­tona and Indy. This time, he needed some savvy moves to block Me­nard, and some good luck to com­plete the fi­nal laps with what he thought was a de­flat­ing tire.

AP/DARRON CUM­MINGS

Dale Earn­hardt Jr. will start 13th in to­day’s Brick­yard 400 at the Indianapolis Mo­tor Speed­way. Kyle Busch will start on the pole with a qual­i­fy­ing speed of 187.301 mph.

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