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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s track position was gone and there was a thick pack of cars in front of him spread three-wide across Talladega Superspeedway during Sunday's Aaron's 499.

He looked at the situation, figured all those cars would crash soon enough and decided it wasn't worth it to be part of the mess.

"You know they're going to crash and I can't afford to wreck anymore here," said Earnhardt, who sustained a concussion in a multi-car crash at Talladega in October 2012. "You've just got to pick your battles, and I felt like we were better off not getting in a wreck and trying to stay back there."

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So despite leading three times for 26 laps, Earnhardt settled for a 26th-place finish. Since he's already almost certainly in the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his Daytona 500 victory, it didn't matter where he finished.

"We already got a win, and I've been in too many late-race wrecks," he said. "I didn't want to be no part of it."

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If all of the cars in front of him were three-wide, Earnhardt reasoned, then there was no place to go. Sure, he could force the issue, but that would likely result in the wreck he didn't want to be in.

Instead, he was an observer from further back in the field as several multi-car incidents took place late in the race.

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"The outside lane doesn't work that well," he said. "When we gave up the lead coming on pit road (to make a pit stop while others stayed out), I knew we weren't going to be able to get back to the front.

"Nobody has really been able to drive from the back to the front today. We need to be up front all day, we need to be out front. You can't go up through there if you're three-wide. You're just going to get in a wreck, so I just sat there and watched them wreck over and over and tried not to get in one myself."

Second-place finisher Greg Biffle vouched for Earnhardt's explanation and said the No. 88 car "would have been probably still leading or right there (at the front) if he wouldn't have pitted."

"Man, I'm telling you, it's hard to pass here," Biffle said. "You try a lane, it just stalls out, won't go. It's hard to get back up there."

Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck

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