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Dale Earnhardt Jr. sees Daytona 500 win slip away

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A late mistake proved costly and prevented Dale Earnhardt Jr. from winning a second straight Daytona 500.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With the knowledge of having what he thought was the superior car, all Dale Earnhardt Jr. could do was lament a third-place finish in Sunday's Daytona 500 after a poor decision on a restart with 19 laps remaining cost him dearly.

Lined up third, Earnhardt attempted to slide up the track in an attempt to pair up with teammate Jimmie Johnson, as the two had worked well together throughout the afternoon. But the move proved disastrous with Earnhardt miscalculating the distance, getting stuck in the middle and shuffled out of the draft. He would plummet from third to 15th almost instantaneously.

"I made a poor choice and you can't afford to do that," Earnhardt said. "I got shuffled back and lost a ton of spots.

"I thought (Johnson) was on the quarter-panel and he was going to get a good run down the back and I wanted to get in behind him. And get on the quarter-panel of the guy in front of me.  Somebody got on the outside and I was stuck in the middle then. Just a bad decision."

What Earnhardt realized in retrospect was he needed to exercise a little patience. Even if he hadn't connected with Johnson, Earnhardt was well positioned to challenge for the lead, and with 19 laps left there was still substantial time to link up with Johnson later.

Alas, that never happened. Earnhardt fell backwards while Johnson maintained a presence near the front.

"Just one of them moves," Earnhardt said. "You made some good ones, you make some bad ones. I made a bad one too late."

Instead of taking a second consecutive Daytona 500 victory and a third overall, Earnhardt had to suffice with third, a result he attempted to find some positivity in throughout his post-race press conference, albeit without much success.

"A little disappointed I let the guys down," Earnhardt said. "We should have won the race.

"You don't get cars that good too often; you like to try to capitalize."

A charge over the closing laps jumped Earnhardt up eighth on a restart on the final green-white-checkered restart. He latched onto Kevin Harvick to make a push until the two were stymied by a multi-car pileup on the backstretch ending the race under caution. But even then, Earnhardt wasn't sure he could get either race-winner Joey Logano or Harvick.

"I didn't have shit going on," Earnhardt said. "Just not enough laps to form anything."