CONCORD, N.C. — At first Dale Earnhardt Jr. was relieved he didn’t fall further back than seventh at last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Then he realized what he had lost for just about a gallon of gas.
“After a while, you start thinking about, ‘Oh, yeah, we really came close to winning a race,”’ Earnhardt said this week. “It was really unfortunate there wasn’t just a little bit more gas in the car.”
If there were, Earnhardt wouldn’t have faced an additional year’s worth of questions about why he hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race since 2008 at Michigan. The drought has grown to 140 races.
“I’ve said it all year long,” he says, “that I think we’re a little bit better than we were last year.”
It looked like Earnhardt was the best at Charlotte Motor Speedway a year ago when he broke free on a late restart to take the lead. He got the white flag just fine, then ran out of gas on the front straightaway before Kevin Harvick passed him for the win.
Harvick said afterwards he “felt so stinking bad” for Earnhardt because he knew how much the Hendrick Motorsports driver wanted to win. The fans roared when Earnhardt moved in front and were equally stunned when his tank ran dry.
Earnhardt was grateful to hang on to seventh as he thought about his position in the chase. Then the disappointment of what happened swept over him.
“I was really unfortunate there wasn’t just a little bit more gas in the car or whatever to get us to victory lane because that would’ve been a great way to cap off a pretty good weekend,” Earnhardt said. “So it was a bit frustrating over time.”