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Dale Earnhardt Jr. regrets clipping Brian Vickers at Daytona

The popular NASCAR driver defends his driving but adds that he called Vickers 'to make sure he knew it wasn't intentional.'

February 21, 2009|Jim Peltz

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday he regretted clipping Brian Vickers' car and triggering a huge wreck in last weekend's Daytona 500, but NASCAR's most popular figure also defended his aggressive driving.

"I've made mistakes before, and it probably won't be the last one I make," Earnhardt said before qualifying 35th for Sunday's Auto Club 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana.

"I hate that it wrecked all them cars," Earnhardt said, adding that he called Vickers this week "to make sure he knew it wasn't intentional.

"Me and Vickers actually have been friends for a while," Earnhardt said. The wreck "all happened pretty fast and it was unfortunate how it all went down."

But Vickers bounced back Friday by winning the pole position for Sunday's stock-car race at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway with a lap of 183.439 mph.

Reigning NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who won the Labor Day race in Fontana last year, qualified second in the 43-car field at 183.164 mph.

With the season so young -- this is only the second race after the rain-shortened Daytona 500, won by Matt Kenseth -- drivers and the media continued dissecting last Sunday's crash.

It started when Earnhardt tried to pass Vickers' No. 83 Red Bull Toyota on Lap 124.

Vickers moved left to block, nearly shoving Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet off the track.

Earnhardt responded by jerking his car to the right, hitting Vickers' bumper and initiating the crash.

Both drivers were one lap down at the time and hoping to get back on the lead lap and vie for the win, especially because rain was quickly moving toward the area.

Despite Earnhardt's popularity, many fans and members of the media faulted him. And even Earnhardt, 34, agreed that's seldom the case.

"It's kind of different being on that side of it," he said. "I definitely could have used better judgment coming back up on the racetrack, but it's hard to tell. There was rain coming, I was a lap down, I had to get my lap back to even have a shot at winning the race."

Earnhardt, son of the late Dale Earnhardt, the legendary seven-time Cup champion who was known as "The Intimidator," also said 'I've always been, uh, too nice" on the racetrack.

"I'm still a good guy, but when I feel like I got a really good opportunity to win and I've got to make up a little ground, you got to race hard," he said.

"That was the Daytona 500 and I felt like I had the car to win," Earnhardt said. "I was racing everybody as smart as I could, but I was racing as hard as I could."

Asked whether he was surprised that some fans blamed him instead of Vickers, Earnhardt said that "when you give people who don't like you an opportunity, they're going to come out of woods after you. And that's just the case of what happened this weekend."

Carmichael's education

Auto Club Speedway also is playing host to a doubleheader today with races in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series and second-tier Nationwide stock-car series.

Kyle Busch -- who is competing in all three races this weekend -- won the pole for the truck race, the San Bernardino County 200. Johnny Benson, who won the truck series title last year, qualified second and Ricky Carmichael was third.

Carmichael, a 15-time champion in supercross and motocross motorcycle racing, plans to drive 14 truck races this year for Kevin Harvick's team as he pursues a NASCAR career.

"I'd love to be in the Cup series someday, that's what we're here to do, be in the best series," Carmichael said.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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