Fort Worth, Tex. — Simmer down, Earnhardt Nation.
The way Dale Earnhardt Jr. sees it, those who bashed Jimmie Johnson for supposed selfish driving last Sunday at Martinsville were simply trying to stir up trouble.
Johnson slowed down and but didn’t stop as Earnhardt was trying to gather his car from a spin off Turn 4 late in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the .526-mile short track. Johnson passed Earnhardt, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, and put the No. 88 Chevrolet a lap down.
Earnhardt said Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway that he understood Johnson’s decision and would have done the same thing under similar circumstances.
“Jimmie couldn’t slow down,” Earnhardt explained. “If you slow down, the guy behind you has the right to take the position. I lost a position to (Denny) Hamlin under caution at Phoenix, so I know all about that too well.
“Jimmie, leading the race, couldn’t take the chance… he did actually try to slow down, and I think that he saw I had two left-side flat tires, and it was pretty pointless for him to wait. If he stopped at all, the guys behind him would have been able to pass him… I would have done the same thing. If I’m leading the race, I’ve got to think about my car, my team, what I’m trying to do.”
Earnhardt’s day had already gone south, the result of an improperly installed track bar mount. The track bar worked its way loose and dropped, tightening up the handling characteristics of the car and making it all but undrivable.
Earnhardt finished 24th, two laps down and dropped from first to third in the Cup standings, 12 points behind Johnson, the series leader.