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Dale Jr. has a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
Dale Jr. is NASCAR's most popular driver, riding on the popularity coattails of his father Dale Sr.  The problem with racing in America today is that drivers become heroes because of who their father was or how sexy they look with their clothes off.  What happened to the day when talent meant everything, you know - what a sport is supposed to be about?
Another race, another strong car for Dale Earnhardt Jr. And another instance of not being able to seal the deal.

Junior is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings and off to a better start than he has had in years -- certainly better than any of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

But something always seems to jump up and bite up, something always seems to happen to turn a potentially winning day into just a good points day.

At Las Vegas a week ago he led 70 of the first 73 laps but ended up 10th after a dust-up with former teammate Mark Martin.

At Bristol on Sunday it was a run-in with a current teammate and a dumb mistake on pit road that cost him a shot at a top-five finish.

Earnhardt was racing side by side with Jeff Gordon when they made contact. It wasn't a hard hit, but Earnhardt's tail pipes ended up cutting down Gordon's left rear tire and he hit the wall.

"I absolutely feel responsible," Earnhardt said. "I got into his door a little bit. We were racing and having a good time, to be honest with you. I put the pipes up against the left rear tire of his car, and knocked the side wall out of it. I hate ... I feel bad about that. I'm going to have to do some damage control this week. I know Jeff understands what was going on out there, but his boys work real hard on their car and they had a good run going."

Gordon didn't blame Junior and acknowledged it was just racing at Bristol.

"I know that it wasn't intentional, but it certainly ruined our day," Gordon said.

That was distracting enough and may have been the cause for Earnhardt having to pit late for a tire that was going down.

But the big thing that bit him was a pit road speeding penalty.

"I was told I was speeding on the back, but if anywhere I was speeding on the front," he said. "I don't know. This place is probably hard to tell exactly what is happening. I don't really trust those timing lines too much. If they say so I guess we were speeding. It's a difficult way to give up a good finish."

Junior has only been racing at Bristol for years now. You would think he would have figured this out by now.

These days with the competition so close and with so many good teams to beat, a small mistake like that is all it takes to see victory slip away. Or mistakes like being unable to find your pit stall.

"I'm upset that I (hurt) myself on pit road speeding there," Junior said. "I'm pretty upset about that. Otherwise, I feel bad about running into Jeff's car and I had a good day other than that. I had a good time. Long green flag run, man. That put us all to the test. I was watching for somebody to fall out of the seat. I don't know who did and who didn't, but I was watching for a couple of them to pull over."

Junior has good equipment. He finally has the crew chief he needs. But he still needs some margin for error. And these days that's a luxury he can't afford. AL.com

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