At Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had gotten to the top 10 and had put himself in position to possibly challenge for the win, but a trip down pit road, and a resulting speeding penalty, changed everything.
It put him back to 15th and resulted in one of the most publicized radio rants from Earnhardt, Jr. with crew chief Lance McGrew.
Lance McGrew: Hey, we sped on the segment coming into the pit box. It was just like a tick. Like 0.06 mph or something like that. Like you gassed it up a bit as you turned off the wall into the pit box and the start-finish line is the speed line so if you gas up any before that you're going to speed.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Not picking on my teammate, but Mark gassed the [expletive] out of his car towards his box. So if they want to correctly gauge the pit-road speed they need to get the [expletive] kind of system that can [expletive] do it for every car on the track, not just depending on what stall you’re in. Because it’s [expletive] me. It probably did the same thing to the 47 [of Marcos Ambrose]. Everybody behind us before that [expletive] timing line can do all the [expletive] they want getting into their stall. It’s [expletive] [expletive]. It’s two-thousand-and-[expletive]-10.
Lance: 10-4 but all we can do is when leaving the box, you know what I'm saying? We can gas it up on the exit but he can gas it up getting in as his box is on the line so he can't leave hard like you can.
Dale Jr.: I can't leave hard. I can't get over 5000 and make a gain before the first box. There ain't enough room. I'm telling you right now.
Lance: You passed two cars today doing it. I watched you.
Dale Jr.: Well, anyhow. To get busted at Bristol for [expletive] speeding by what-the-[expletive]-ever it was and when I didn't [expletive] gain nothing on nobody, it's not the way it should be. There should be a different way of doing it. You bust your [expletive] to get up there. Now they can't be [expletive] [expletive] about every [expletive] little nitpickin' [expletive] thing. We're out here racing our [expletive] off.
Lance: I gotcha bud, I gotcha bud. Look, we're back up to 15th position. Calm down, take a couple deep breaths and everything is going to be fine.
This was then followed by another exchange that included heat of its own. Earnhardt Jr. told Lance on the radio that the car was pushing, in which McGrew responded, “Don't lay down on me, bud.”
Earnhardt Jr. then laid into McGrew saying, “I can't lay down here. This is Bristol. I don't ever [expletive] lay down. Don't ever say that again on the radio. Don't need the whole world hearing that."
The day turned out to be a good day for the No. 88 team, as they finished in seventh and gained five points in the standings, to move up to eighth.
“Typical 2009 would have been, we had that penalty, we would have finished 31st and we could have never made our way back through the field,” McGrew said after the race. “Seventh is not exactly what we were hoping for today. But it’s good enough to put us in the top eight in points.”
McGrew also added that sometimes you have to let the emotions flow.
“You’ve got to let him vent,” McGrew said. “I kind of snapped at him a little bit and got him a little riled…I shouldn’t have snapped at him like that. But it’s just one of those things where he’s got to be on the wheel the whole time and I’ve got to do what I can do to keep him motivated and keep him pumped up.
“If that makes him a little mad sometimes, then you’ve got to do it.”
Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t available for immediate comment after the race, but prior to the Charlotte Motor Speedway spoiler test, he shared his opinion.
“Everybody goes through that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think that in the heat of the moment, you’re going to get [angry] and you’re going to fire off some shots and I was really, really mad about that damn speeding penalty, and I needed to say some [stuff] to get calmed down a little bit because I was so [angry].
“Running my mouth, that’s my pop-off valve. It gives me a little bit of relief so I could get back to what I was doing. It’s however anyone really interprets it. Lance handled it pretty good. I was at no point mad at him. We haven’t really gotten into it since we started working together over anything. We’ve got a pretty good balance between our personalities to keep us from doing that.
“You’re going to have days where you get a little hot on the radio and I haven’t really been hot on the radio in a long, long time. And we ain’t run worth a [crap] in a while, either. There ain’t been no reason to … complain when you’re running like [crap].
“So when we’re running pretty good and you can almost reach that top five or see yourself almost in a position to get a win and it gets snapped away from you that quick, man, it’s hard to bite your tongue. It’s hard to sit there and just take it and not show any emotion.”
Some drivers pound the dashboard or take out their anger by driving the car harder, but for Earnhardt, he says he has to let it loose by telling somebody.
"I had to cuss my ass off just to calm down," he said. "I personally can't get back to what I'm doing just by sitting there and cussing by myself or punching the dash or whatever these other drivers do. I can't get calmed back down.
"I have to tell somebody. I have to know somebody's hearing my side of it, you know what I mean? And then I'm like, ‘Alright, I'm alright. Back to work.'"
In regards to the "don't lay down on me" comment, he said that it's a touchy subject to him.
"He was like, ‘Don't lay down on me,' and that pisses me off, because that's a little touchy subject with me," Earnhardt Jr. said, patting his chest. "People have always been giving me [expletive] about my motivation—all my career. Whether I'm not focused enough, whether I've got the desire, the passion, all that stuff.
"Anytime anybody sort of touches on that type of [crap], it pisses me off. Plus I wasn't in a good mood at the time."
He then added that it's not rare to see a driver and crew chief to fire back at each other on some topics.
He was then asked if he’d speak to NASCAR about changing the rules, but he saw no point in that.
“There’s no point in asking,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “They ain’t going to do nothing about it. They like how they’ve got it and that’s the way it’s going to be…It [angers] you when that happens to you. This is the [freaking] real deal.
“We’re out there racing our [butts] off, I’m busting my [butt] to get in the top five, and now it’s gone like that, as soon as I got there. I was [angry]. I probably overreacted but there is an underlying story to the issue.”
He then added that with the current system, it's hard for drivers also to gauge the correct RPM.
"They say ‘Pace car is at pit road speed, get your [freaking] tach,'" he said. "Well, I can't get it, it's all over the place. Cars are going and weaving and [crap] before the race starts. At Bristol? It's a [freaking] short track.
"My [RPM calculation] was 5100. So I'm running 5000 down pit road all day long and I was OK until I gassed it to go to my stall like everyone else does, but I shouldn't have done it, because I know that I passed the timing line."
Team owner Rick Hendrick says he’s happy overall with the pair and the results through it all.
"They've worked really hard," Hendrick said. "Lance and Dale have great chemistry. I think if you listen to them on the radio, they're working well together.
"Dale had a great car. He would have been in the top five or had a real shot at it himself had he been able not to have that speeding penalty."
The No. 88 team looks to carry their momentum on to Martinsville this coming weekend, where both Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports have had past success.