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Dale Earnhardt Jr. commits ‘mistake,’ crashes out of Daytona 500

Earnhardt’s once-promising afternoon turned into a disappointing finish.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Throughout Daytona 500 Speedweeks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew he had the car to win and the only thing he needed to do was ensure that car made it to Sunday without incident.

But while Earnhardt accomplished the goal of avoiding calamity and competing in the Daytona 500 with the car he affectionately named Amelia, which had won two of four restrictor-plate races last season, he wasn't so fortunate in the race itself.

Earnhardt's bid to win a second Daytona 500 in three years, and third overall, ended in a single-car crash that saw the No. 88 car slam head-on into Daytona International Speedway's inside Turn 4 wall.

The favorite to win Sunday, Earnhardt was attempting to make a high-side pass on lap 169 of 200 when he lost control and spun off the track into the wall just before pit road, sustaining significant damage. He finished 36th.

"I just got loose," Earnhardt said. "I've been pushing real bad all day, especially off of Turn 4. ... I was aggressive trying to side draft guys and move forward. We were making some ground on the leaders a little bit so that was looking pretty good because the outside line really hadn't been doing anything all day."

Even before the accident, Earnhardt scoring another Daytona win was appearing unlikely.

After leading 15 laps in the early going, Earnhardt faded down the running order, spending the majority of the day running in the mid-teens and never higher than sixth.

While Amelia had been stout in winning Thursday's Duel qualifying race, that event had been held at night in cool temperatures. On the other hand, Sunday's race was a 1:30 p.m. ET start under a hot Florida sun, which made the 2.5-mile track slick.

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"It caught me by surprise," Earnhardt said. "I was trying to side-draft a guy beside me and boy, it pinned the right front -- all the downforce there.

"We have been working on the balance all day. That was our problem. We really underestimated how important handling was going to be today. We've had a rocket all week, but that was in single-car runs and at the (Duel), the car handled great."

Earnhardt was one of many drivers who struggled with the dramatically diverse conditions. He began showing speed again in the latter stages, but with passing proving difficult, recouping the lost track position proved problematic. That's how he found himself spinning down the track and into the retaining wall just before pit road.

"Just busted my butt there," Earnhardt said. "Driver mistake."