Gordon, Earnhardt reconcile differences from Talladega tiff

Updated: May 7, 2008, 2:00 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. admits his 71-race losing streak played a role in his decision not to help teammate Jeff Gordon in the final stages of last weekend's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also disagreed with Gordon's choice of drafting partner.

Gordon says he was doing what was right for him to win the race just as Earnhardt felt he was doing the right thing and that the situation has been overblown.

It was the first clash between the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, one both agree won't be an issue moving forward.

"He and I have talked about it, and I feel like it's a nonissue," Gordon said on Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "You're going to make decisions that sometimes you're going to work with your teammates and sometimes you're not.

"I feel like the decision I made and the decision he made just really didn't really blend together... Everybody is making a much bigger deal about this because it's Junior and myself. I said plenty of things about others out there too that no one is interested in talking about."

Gordon was angry as he shouted over his in-car radio about Earnhardt's decision to go with Ryan Newman instead of him with about 25 laps remaining.

The two talked about the situation during a Tuesday test session at Nashville. Earnhardt said the two are "fine" heading into Saturday night's race at RIR, where he scored his last victory in 2006.

"I said, 'Look man. I've got nothing but respect for you. I'm the first guy here ready to cooperate and the last guy wanting to make any problems or cause any issues.' I guess the one thing he wanted to make sure that he understood was I didn't have a spot in my mind to spite him or to show him up in any way."

[+] EnlargeJeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both agree last weekend's incident in Talladega won't be an issue moving forward.
Here's what happened. Earnhardt and Gordon were in a draft with Ryan Newman on the high side. David Ragan pulled up as they came to the front straightaway hoping to get pushed to the front.

Newman dipped to the middle line and Earnhardt, saying they were about 10 mph faster than Ragan, went with him. He thought Gordon would do the same, but Gordon chose to stay with Ragan.

"I definitely wasn't wanting to do that," Earnhardt said. "I'd be the third guy in line on the outside of a three-wide pass. That guy never gets a good position out of that deal."

Gordon said he stayed with Ragan because he didn't want to be out front before the final lap.

"He had been up front a lot more during the day and was making it work," said Gordon, who finished 19th to fall a spot to 14th in points. "Every time I got towards the front I got shuffled back. So I wanted to be third, fourth, in the top five. I didn't want to be up front. I was trying to position myself for the end. He was trying to position himself.

"That's the bottom line. Where we disagreed was he was wanting to be in a different position than I was wanting to be in. I'm more clear about that going forward and I think he is as well."

Earnhardt said the situation could have been avoided had they talked about strategy and morals before the race.

"Restrictor plate racing is difficult because you want to help your teammates but you want to win the race, too," he said. "Had we won the week before and weren't trying to end the streak of losses I would have been probably a whole lot more apt to work with him and willing to give up more.

"In my opinion of what I thought was going to help win the race I would have been willing to sacrifice more to help him."

Earnhardt doesn't know how it would have turned out had he gone with Gordon. He admitted they may not have gotten caught up in a late-race incident that forced him to rally for a 10th-place finish that left him third in points.

"I got a little hot on how things were going for me," he said. "I should have been a little more patient. But I don't know. Sometimes patience doesn't get you what you want, either."

This wasn't the first time the two have disagreed on strategy at Talladega. In October of 2006, when Earnhardt was driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., Gordon complained that the way Earnhardt bump drafted outside the straightaways violated NASCAR's warning.

Earnhardt said Gordon was being hypocritical.

"I pushed Jeff Gordon into the lead five freaking times," he said after being knocked out of the lead on a last-lap crash with Jimmie Johnson and winner Brian Vickers. "And every time I do that he complains that I'm bump-drafting in the corners. I'm just not going to push him anymore."

That never crossed Earnhardt's mind on Sunday.

"To be competitive with Jeff after all the years he's been at Hendrick, that would be foolish to me," he said. "That would be pretty immature to act that way at this point.

"We'll probably do a better job of working together the next time to win the race. I definitely feel like we have a better opportunity to win the race as teammates than we do separately."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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