NASCAR Talladega 2013: Patience costs Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jerry Markland

Exercising patience, Dale Earnhardt was set up to win his first race of the season. But a caution flag on the last lap proved costly and instead, NASCAR’s most popular driver finished second.

Everything appeared set for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

He had one of the fastest cars all afternoon, and on the white flag lap was positioned second with a group of cars directly behind him ready to push him past leader Jamie McMurray. If there was a catbird seat to be sitting in, Earnhardt was in it.

Yet before Earnhardt could make his move and power to his first win of the season, and his first restrictor-plate victory in nine years, an ill-timed caution flag foiled his bid.

As the field came off of Turn 2, Austin Dillon, who was running third, lost control of his Chevrolet and spun in front of the pack. Dillon would be slammed into by Casey Mears, which caused Dillon's No. 14 car to get airborne.

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NASCAR quickly displayed the yellow flag, the field was frozen and just like that, the race was over.

"It's all kind of a blur as to how we ended up in second, but I had no reason to make a move before the last lap being in second place," Earnhardt said. "I was in perfect position to be patient and wait as long as I wanted to. So that's why we didn't go any sooner than that."

Earnhardt explained that his game plan was for him to swoop by McMurray on the backstretch with the assist of Dillon, and then fend off any and all challengers. He had been setting up McMurray for a couple of laps, biding his time.

"I was moving around just a little bit to see where (McMurray) thought I might be going, because I gotta sort of fake him out," Earnhardt said.

That strategy, however, never materialized.

Hindsight being 20/20, Earnhardt, obviously, would have been best served by making his move a lap before, especially considering Talladega's propensity for last-lap crashes. But with most everyone being overly patient, Earnhardt wasn't going to second-guess himself.

"I just can't anticipate a caution coming out every single time we run at Talladega race on the last lap," Earnhardt said. "So I just assumed it would go to checkered and was planning my move on the back straightaway."

Regardless, the end result sees Earnhardt record his fourth runner-up finish of the season. And his winless streak is now 51 races and counting.

"I'm not going to complain too much because I'm driving some of the best cars in the garage and got some of the best engines ... it really means a lot," Earnhardt said. "It's frustrating because the worst part about it really is you go home and you'll spend months thinking about what you could have done to not be second. That's the worst part about it.

"You're kind of happy with being competitive and it was a good result. But you'll go back and think of a million things you could have tried different."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Will there be another surprise winner at Talladega?

Talladega is a championship game-changer

Dale Jr. has fond memories of Talladega

Kurt Busch's "Talladega Nights" paint scheme

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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