After two miserable weeks away from the track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he hoped to use Martinsville as "a little closure" on his process of recovering from multiple concussions.
He didn't get it.
Though he stayed out and restarted second in the final laps last weekend, Earnhardt Jr. dropped through the field as cars with fresher tires swallowed him up. To make matters worse, he then got punted by Carl Edwards in a chain-reaction collision and had to settle for a 21st-place finish.
Afterward, he was angry and frustrated – emotions he expressed to both crew chief Steve Letarte and the media. But he later regretted doing so.
"When we made the decision to stay out, I was positive coming to that restart about what we were doing," he said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "When (Letarte) made the decision for us to not pit, I didn't immediately throw my hands up in the air at that moment. I was like, 'Alright, I'm going to go as hard as I can go here.'"
But Earnhardt Jr. was in for an unpleasant surprise: His car was too tight and too slow on the restart, and other drivers "were all over me trying to get by me."
"I know I was a pain in the ass (for the other drivers), and I was just getting more and more frustrated," he said. "I lost control of my emotions a little bit and how I expressed my opinion after the race to him, to (the media), to everybody.
"Looking back now, I wasn't that mad about it – I didn't even think it was a bad call when we made it. I was being a bit of an armchair quarterback after the fact."
Earnhardt Jr. was remorseful in part because the crew chief has been unrelentingly supportive of him since the two were paired together in November 2010.
"I need to realize he's trying to help me – he's not trying to throw me to the wolves," Earnhardt Jr. said.
As for his concussions, the driver said his spin had no negative effect on his head and he continues to feel better (he's been in contact with doctors daily). But Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged he was "anxious and real nervous" about returning to Martinsville on Friday of race weekend and facing the media.
It took Saturday and Sunday for him to have "a breakthrough."
"Just to get to the track and see things working how I wanted them to work (and) really kind of connect to the race car like I wanted to felt really good," he said.
At Texas, where he finished 10th in the spring, Earnhardt Jr. said he's been eager to get back in the car again after the disappointing result at Martinsville.
"Anytime you don't finish things like you want, you want to get another shot or start over," he said. "You hate to have to sit around for a couple days waiting on the next opportunity to do it the right way."