As he was during the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the picture of composure and calm afterward.
Earnhardt might have shown some outward frustration Sunday, finishing second to Joey Logano in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
In a race he needed to win if he wanted to advance into the third round of NASCAR’s Chase, Earnhardt trailed Logano by just a few feet when a caution flag came out at the start of a green-white-checkered finish.
That meant Logano was the winner and headed into the third round. Earnhardt, who led 61 laps and had the race’s fastest car, was left to think about finishing out this season with an eye toward 2016.
“I’m just real happy with how we ran today,” Earnhardt said. “I’m more proud of the drive I had today than the (other) two wins this year. The two wins came a lot easier than this second place did. We got shuffled out. I didn’t know if we could get back up there.”
Earnhardt led a race-high six times and appeared to have a strong shot at winning. But mistakes – by driver and crew – made his job tougher. Earnhardt twice locked his brakes entering pit road – forcing time consuming tire changes.
After going back on the track after the first pit stop, crew chief Greg Ives asked Earnhardt over the radio if he had enough speed to make it back to the front.
“I don’t know why I wouldn’t,” Earnhardt said. “What the hell is gonna stop us?”
Later, an overzealous crew member jumped over the pit wall before Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy arrived in the pit box, incurring a pass-through penalty on Lap 120.
Knowing he had a strong car, Earnhardt told Ives that the error was something the team could overcome.
“Don’t panic, don’t panic,” Earnhardt told Ives. “Things will work out. Shake it off, man.”
After another tire-scuff entering pit road on Lap 178, Earnhardt made his way back to second place behind Logano. That’s where Earnhardt was ultimately undone by NASCAR’s decision to limit the race to one green-white-checkered finish.
“I’m fine with it,” Earnhardt said of the rule change. “I feel like no matter the rules, when the race is over, I can live with the result as long as everyone else is going by the same rules.
“So I felt like, per the rule book, it sorted out and I finished second. I’m OK with that. We could argue they could have waited another 100 feet to throw the caution, but they didn’t have to. They threw it when they needed to.
“I know those guys up in the booth, and I really believe in the choices they make and decisions they make for the sport, whether it’s in the middle of a race or a new rule in the middle of the week, whatever it is.”