Dale Earnhardt Jr. reacts after his bumper-push with Marcos Ambrose set off a 12-car crash during testing at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 11. / Douglas Jones, USA TODAY Sports
CONCORD, N.C. -- What does it take to embarrass NASCAR's most popular driver?
Apparently sending a bunch of his peers home with wrecked race cars will do the trick.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said his role in triggering a Jan. 11 crash during preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway left him "the most embarrassed I'd ever been."
Earnhardt was trying to bump-draft with Marcos Ambrose toward the front of a big pack but accidentally turned Ambrose's car instead. The result was a 12-car pileup that left more 10 teams unable to continue testing their Gen 6 cars. NASCAR is introducing the model this season.
"It was a mistake," Earnhardt told news reporters Wednesday during Hendrick Motorsports' stop on the Sprint Media Tour. "I've made 'em before, it won't be the last. (But) it was really embarrassing."
Earnhardt said it was even more embarrassing than the opening weekend of last year's Chase, when he blew a motor at the end of his qualifying lap by over-revving it while trying to knock the car out of gear.
Reporters quizzed him on why the Daytona moment in particular seemed to stick with him -- since he'd certainly made errors before, as all drivers do.
"I realized it's a new car, everybody is there to learn new things and uncover specifics about the car â?? and a lot of that was taken away from those teams because of the accident," he said. "So I felt like I short-handed a lot of guys at that test."
Since Earnhardt's car was undamaged, his team remained at the test for another day and a half. By the end, he couldn't help but notice a constant reminder of his error: Every other team around his had already packed up and gone home.
"After that accident, nobody wanted any more drafting," he said with a slight chuckle. "We didn't, either."
Despite being red-faced over the incident, Earnhardt said the crash actually taught him a little about the limitations of the new vehicle. The Gen 6 cars' bumpers don't line up as they did in NASCAR's previous models, so drivers won't be able to push cars ahead of them in the same way they did before.
"Everybody will kind of have to go through that school again," he said.
But though it was a lesson he could use in the Feb. 24 Daytona 500, Earnhardt wasn't feeling too good about learning the hard way.
"I definitely don't like being that guy who makes those kind of things happen," he said. "I generally don't want to be in that conversation."
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