Dale Earnhardt Jr. Accepts Responsibility, but Will the Fans Stand by Their Man?

Kara MartinSenior Analyst IFebruary 22, 2009

"Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man."
In the week following the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the center of attention thanks in part to the controversial wreck with Brian Vickers that caused "the big one" during the race.
NASCAR fans, Junior Nation and even drivers who weren't involved in the accident were up in arms, claiming that Junior had intentionally wrecked Vickers. NASCAR's favorite son went from all around good guy to a villainous monster in a matter of seconds, a light cast that does not often shine in Earnhardt's direction.
Earnhardt has been desecrated by the media over a crash between two drivers who were both a lap down.
On any other given Sunday with virtually any other driver and this event would have barely made the papers: But it was Dale Earnhardt Jr., six time winner of NASCAR's most popular driver award. He certainly didn't achieve that status by racing dirty.
Junior himself could hardly relate to the backlash. "I got ripped really bad in the press, and maybe I deserved part of it," Earnhardt said after practice at Auto Club Speedway. "It's different being on that side of the fence."
"You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times
Doing things that you don't understand."
In Earnhardt's case even bad press is good press. Being the "bad boy" flavor of the week never looked so good in NASCAR's eyes. Despite finishing 39th, Vickers should be secretly thanking his lucky stars that out of all the drivers in the field that it was Earnhardt who wrecked him.
The crash was the highlight of the sporting week. Monday morning the Earnhardt-Vickers showdown was on everyone's lips. Vickers was thrust into the spotlight for simply getting bumped by the "right person" at the wrong time.
The incident even overshadowed Matt Kenseth's first Daytona 500 win.
The first question Kenseth got on Wednesday's national media teleconference was about the Earnhardt-Vickers crash. Kenseth had to share the spotlight with a "Lucky Dog" casualty.
Despite harsh accusations between the drivers as to who was at fault during their post-accident interviews and even a rumor that Earnhardt told his crew that he was ready to defend himself, mono y mono by saying, "Tell Vickers if he wants to meet me in the garage to get his ass beat, I'm willing," Earnhardt accepted the blame and is ready to move on.
Earnhardt extended the olive branch to Vickers by placing a call to him earlier this week. "It was much appreciated," Vickers said of the call.
"He apologized and said he did not mean to do it. I didn't know what to say. We finished almost last because of what happened. Of course I was upset about it, but the call means a lot."
"But if you love him
You'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand."

Jeff Burton was one of the drivers upset with Earnhardt after the race, but he came to his defense Friday.

"We knew it was about to rain so we were all fighting to get the best position we could," Burton said. "You could say Vickers shouldn't have blocked or Junior shouldn't have hit him, but neither one of them meant to cause a wreck.

"I thought it was a typical Daytona/Talladega wreck where one guy tries to protect his spot and the other guy needs that spot. You misjudge by six inches and there's a wreck."

Earnhardt wanted to clarify one thing about the Daytona situation that most people missed. He couldn't get the lucky dog (free pass back on the lead lap) when that caution came out.

"I knew before that caution that I wasn't going to get the lucky dog," Earnhardt said. "You can't get it [on the next caution] after serving a penalty. I had to race in front of the leaders and try to get my lap back that way."

"I take full responsibility for what happened on pit road," he said. "It's unfortunate how everything happened. I feel bad for everybody that was swept up in that wreck. But at the same time, it's the Daytona 500. The rain was coming and you have to take risks."

Earnhardt was apologetic, but he also got a little angry at one point during the questions at his hauler.

"My statistics at the [restrictor] plate tracks speak for themselves," Earnhardt said. "I don't have to defend myself about how good a plate racer I am and what moves I make on the track. I have just as much right to be on the race track and do whatever the hell I want to do as anybody.

"I'll race hard, but I'll race how I want to be raced. I've always raced with a lot of respect."

"And if you love him
Oh, be proud of him
Cause after all he's just a man."

Both drivers have seemingly put the incident behind them, but how about everyone else? Will Junior Nation forgive and forget and once again proudly stand by their man?


ESPN.com was referenced for this article.