Earn­hardt Jr. takes blame for stir­ring up de­bate

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - NASCAR CUP SE­RIES BRICK­YARD 400 BY MICHAEL MAROT

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 42-year-old 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 Jr. 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. He’ll start 13th.

The se­ries’ most pop­u­lar driver an­nounced in April 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, Ju­nior said his wife felt she needed to take her opin­ion to the pub­lic.

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

Kyle Busch won the pole po­si­tion as he chases an un­prece­dented third con­sec­u­tive Brick­yard 400 vic­tory. Busch earned the top qual­i­fy­ing spot on his fi­nal lap with a speed of 187.301 mph on the 2.5-mile oval. Kevin Har­vick was sec­ond at 186.332, and Jamie McMur­ray qual­i­fied third.

XFIN­ITY SE­RIES: Rookie Wil­liam By­ron bobbed and weaved through the fi­nal two laps and held off Paul Me­nard to win the Lilly Di­a­betes 250 at Indianapolis.

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