On a day when Dale Earnhardt Jr. led more laps in a single race than he had in all of 2011, NASCAR's most popular driver was fired up about not finishing better than his 10th-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I think we should run better than that," he said. "I think the team felt like we should have been better than that. We're just a little bit disappointed."
Earnhardt Jr. said his car was tight at the start of the race, even when he was leading lap after lap – 70 in all – and the driver failed to communicate that fact to crew chief Steve Letarte.
"It's a lesson you learned a long, long time ago, and we just didn't do a good job of working on the car during the race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It was more my fault than anything."
The driver said he knew changes were needed to free the car up, but blamed himself for not making that clear to Letarte. In his experience, the track gets tighter and tighter as the race goes on – particularly in the last 60 laps, when there are multiple cautions.
"You just know that from years and years of driving," he said. "Knowing how it drove that first run, even though it was really fast, we should have worked on it and I should have told Steve more about it. I should have let him understand what was going on."
The driver was also frustrated with his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Mark Martin. With roughly 25 laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. made contact with the No. 55 car after getting a run in the outside lane, and he inadvertently put Martin in the wall.
Earnhardt Jr. said he was frustrated prior to the incident and Martin's move "kind of sent me over the edge." But he maintained Martin made a breach of racing etiquette with the block.
"I don't have a problem with Mark; I have so much respect for him," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But to me, personally, there's an unwritten etiquette that if...I'm coming 10 mph faster off the top of the racetrack; you stay low. Don't knock a half-second off my lap time being a jerk about it. Stay low.
"You're going to get it in the next corner, the position is going to be yours, just don't pull up in front of somebody when they're going to come up off the corner 10 mph faster."
Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't believe Martin's move was how drivers were supposed to race, though he acknowledged Martin probably feels differently and added the drivers "definitely disagreed right there at that moment."
"We just want to win really bad," he said, "and it felt like we should have finished better than we did today."
Martin was unavailable for comment after the race because he had already left the track before Earnhardt Jr. made his comments to reporters.