DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- They were racing toward the front, nose-to-tail, on the verge of a thrilling family feud that could have made history.
Then father and the son forgot what got them there.
Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fought among themselves. Within moments Sunday, they were mere afterthoughts at the Daytona 500.
''He didn't work at all with anybody,'' Earnhardt said, blaming his son for the opportunity squandered. ''He wanted to pass. That's all he wanted to do, so that's why he finished where he did.''
His youthful indiscretions aside, the 25-year-old Earnhardt Jr. still finished 13th, a full eight spots ahead of the driver known as The Intimidator.
But that was a hollow victory, especially considering where the two were with 30 laps remaining.
Earnhardt had moved to fourth and Little E to fifth, right on his father's bumper at the beginning of the end of the Great American Race.
The two swapped positions, sparring back and forth, maybe even trading a little of the red paint from their cars.
Next thing they knew, they had been shuffled back.
They dueled again toward the end, but without much notice. By then, fans were watching Dale Jarrett overtake Johnny Benson for the victory, not the fight for 10th place.
The middle of the pack was not a familiar spot for either Earnhardt.
Earnhardt Jr., racing in his first Daytona 500, is expected to be a strong candidate for the Winston Cup rookie of the year award.
In two years in the Busch series, he won 13 races and both championships while driving for the team owned by his dad and stepmother Teresa.
Junior's got a lot of catching up to do. Earnhardt Sr. has won seven Winston Cup championships.
Jarrett, the defending Winston Cup champion, benefited most from the Earnhardt squabble. He used Earnhardt Jr.'s maneuvers to get back into the lead pack for his final run at the title.
''I looked up with 20-something laps to go and I saw them both in front of me,'' Jarrett said. ''Then, they were gone. I guess Junior was the one who hung him out to dry. When he did, I said, 'I'll go with you,' so we did. That was pretty cool. I was pretty impressed. He's just got to understand who signs his paycheck.''
Indeed, Earnhardt Jr. might have some explaining to do to his father, who also owns the car his son drives.
Right after the race, however, Junior had a different view of the late showdown.
''I thought he would be the first one to help me, but he was the last person who wanted to stay behind me,'' said Earnhardt Jr., racing in his first Daytona 500. ''We did more racing than I wanted to. I wanted to stay with him and stay behind him.
''Then, everybody got to racing behind me and it was either pass or be passed.''
Too bad for the Earnhardts -- both got left behind.
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