Dale Earnhardt Jr. has as strong and as loyal a fan base as anyone in sports.

And yet he was able to rattle that group a little Sunday. He violated a cardinal rule: He didn’t appear to try.

Nobody likes it when their favorite baseball team lollygags on the field, and in some ways that is what Earnhardt appeared to be doing late in the race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He lost track position when he pitted, falling to 13th, and since he wasn’t in the front, he opted for running at the back rather the middle of the pack. That is somewhat understandable since there often are big wrecks at Talladega.

Earnhardt, who led 26 laps in the middle of the race, barely made any moves in the last 30 laps. He tried one late before being cut off in the draft (an acceptable move) by Josh Wise.

For Earnhardt, who in 2012 suffered a concussion at the track that kept him out of a racecar for two weeks, it just didn’t seem worth it to try to get closer to the lead pack and mix it up. He didn’t feel he would be able to gain enough momentum to get to the front and figured if he could avoid the big wreck, he’d gain more spots through attrition than by actually making a move.

The problem is there wasn’t the big 20-car pileup that Earnhardt was expecting. He was a non-factor and finished 26th.

“You know they’re going to crash and I can’t afford to wreck anymore here,” Earnhardt said. “So, 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.”