Earnhardt says it’s every man for himself at Talladega

Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service Saturday, Oct 18 1319

For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the only realistic way to keep the championship hopes of the No. 88 team alive is to win Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).

If Earnhardt wins, however, there’s a good chance he’ll knock teammate Jimmie Johnson out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

But Earnhardt isn’t about to let that thought affect his approach.

“We all sort of just race our own races and run our own seasons,” Earnhardt said Saturday morning at Talladega. “I would never expect any of my teammates to do anything differently. They’re supposed to go out there and run as good as they possibly can run and finish as well as they possibly can finish every week.

“I’ve been in situations in years past, with Michael (Waltrip) in particular, at race tracks where we’re working together, and it’s five laps to go and I’m driving the Bud car and the Miller car (with Rusty Wallace) is behind me. If I pull out, he’s not going to go with me. Do I help my teammate?”

Over the years, Earnhardt has found a clear-cut answer to that question.

“I’ve been in those situations before, and there’s really no other (solution) than all you have to do in that situation is to think about the team on pit road, and all the guys that are working in that shop and the fabricators that work on your car, individually, that are at home watching. And they want you to win.

“And those are the people that matter. So, you’ve got to go and try to do whatever you need to do. That particular night, I pulled out and Rusty (Wallace) didn’t go and we sent to sixth. And I think Michael won. But we tried. I felt so much better having tried than to sit there and run right behind my teammate and not have tried.”

Even though Hendrick Motorsports prides itself on a spirit of cooperation between its teams, when it comes down to the final laps, it’s every man for himself, particularly when the championship is on the line.

“I think that’s the mentality that you have to have, and we are one great company that we all try to work for and try to improve and help,” Earnhardt said. “But when it comes down to individual races, you’ve got to do everything you can for the guys that are putting your car together.

“And you want it, too. I definitely need to move forward. I need to get into the next round. We want to get into the next round, and we can’t worry about anybody else to make that happen.”