TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) - While crew members frantically worked to fix damage on the No. 88 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked across the garage area to the infield medical center and apologized to Jeff Burton.
Earnhardt blamed himself for brushing the back of Burton's car at an awkward angle on lap 134 of Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, causing Burton to crash heavily.
``I got into Jeff and didn't hit him square and turned him down the racetrack and ended up wrecking him,'' Earnhardt said. ``Just didn't hit him square, misjudged the push I was going to give him and did it incorrectly.''
Burton wasn't upset with Earnhardt. Bump-drafting, where a driver gives the car in front of him a push on the back bumper to make both cars go faster, is just a fact of life when it comes to racing at Talladega.
And at speeds nearing 200 mph, things don't always go according to plan.
``He didn't mean it,'' Burton said in a television interview. ``He didn't do anything wrong. We just didn't get lined up. It got a little hectic getting into (turn) three, and I think I moved a little bit more than he thought I was and we just didn't get lined up right. It won't be the last time it happens.''
Earnhardt said he felt particularly bad because of the respect he had for Burton, a veteran considered a leader in the garage area.
``That's one of the ambassadors of the sport, and I've got so much respect for him,'' Earnhardt said. ``When you're out there racing, you're not considering all those things and as soon as I turned him, I felt terrible about it. I just respect him so much.''
For Earnhardt, it was another blown opportunity in a disappointing season. He was strong early in Sunday's race, leading six times for a total of 24 laps and bringing fans to their feet every time he took the lead.
Now he hasn't won since Michigan in June 2008 and admits he is feeling pressure to run up front.
``I mean, it's hairy stuff, but it's what you've got to do to get up to the lead,'' Earnhardt said. ``You want to be up front. You've got to put your car toward the front for your sponsors, for your fans. You've got a lot of people here to please and you feel that responsibility to be up there all the time.''
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BOWYER'S BURNOUT: It might have been the NASCAR equivalent to a football player celebrating a touchdown before he gets into the end zone, but Clint Bowyer didn't wait for NASCAR officials to officially declare him the winner of Sunday's race before he began doing a victory burnout on the frontstretch.
``Claim that baby before somebody else does!'' Bowyer joked.
For Bowyer, Sunday's win erased some frustration after a NASCAR penalty in the wake of his Chase-opening win at New Hampshire essentially took him out of championship contention.
``To be able to win, it is redemption,'' Bowyer said. ``It finally puts that behind me, as a race car driver, as a person, and us as a race team.''
Bowyer admits he's still not happy about the penalty.
``It just took the wind right out of my sails,'' Bowyer said. ``The two races after that whole mess, it was a disaster. If we had that back and we were along our normal routine, I don't think we would have had those bad runs that we had.''
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RPM ON TRACK?: Richard Petty Motorsports director of competition Robbie Loomis said the team has cars and engines for the next two races and it is the team's ``full intention'' to finish the season and figure out a plan for 2011.
Amid widespread questions about the team's financial footing, there has been speculation that RPM was behind on its payments to Roush Fenway Racing and might not get the equipment it needed to finish the season. RPM driver Elliott Sadler said Saturday that there was uncertainty within the team this week about whether they would even make it to Talladega.
``It's been rampant, like wildfire, the way speculation and rumors go,'' Loomis said Sunday morning. ``But Roush has been a big, big supporter of Richard and the Gilletts. ... We're excited about finishing up strong.''
RPM is co-owned by NASCAR icon Richard Petty and businessman George Gillett, whose financial well-being is under scrutiny after he and business partner Tom Hicks tried unsuccessfully to block the sale of debt-laden English soccer club Liverpool. In an odd twist of fate, Liverpool was sold to New England Sports Ventures and John Henry - who is a co-owner of the Roush Fenway team providing equipment to RPM.
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HUNTER TRIBUTE: Talladega Superspeedway will rename its press box to honor late NASCAR executive Jim Hunter. Hunter, a beloved figure in the NASCAR garage area who played a critical role in the sport's growth, died Friday night after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 71.
NASCAR officials wore yellow ``NASCAR 1948'' caps like the one Hunter always wore in the garage, as did driver Tony Stewart in the prerace drivers meeting.
The track also lowered a large Talladega Superspeedway flag to half mast.
``Well, not quite half-mast,'' track chairman Grant Lynch joked. ``If you get it down near the ground, they're going to steal it.''

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