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Tuesday, May 1
Earnhardt Jr. believes seat belt broke
Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes the seat belt in his father's car was broken during his fatal accident, brushing aside claims by a rescue worker that the belt was intact when emergency crews arrived at the car.

"I believe that the belt broke and I will always believe that," Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday. "I'm not discarding anyone's statement as fiction, but there are always going to be two sides. I believe the belt broke."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he supports NASCAR's contention his father's seat belt broke during his fatal accident at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt was killed in an accident on the final turn of the Daytona 500. Five days after the Feb. 18 crash, NASCAR officials said they discovered a broken seat belt in Earnhardt's crumpled car. After interviewing rescuers on the scene, NASCAR determined it had not been cut.

Tommy Propst, an Orange County firefighter and emergency medical technician who was one of the first on the scene, told the Orlando Sentinel last weekend that the belt was in one piece when he got to the car and he struggled to pull open the buckle before finally releasing it.

Propst also said no one from NASCAR has interviewed him.

Earnhardt Jr. said whether the seat belt broke is not an issue to him.

"I don't think it matters, it's not a valid question," he said. "It's not an issue to me."

He supports NASCAR as it continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding Earnhardt's death.

NASCAR is conducting an independent review into the accident, and one of the focuses is on the broken seat belt. NASCAR president Mike Helton has declined to discuss the investigation, saying he would address it when the review is completed in August.

"I have total confidence in NASCAR and Mike Helton," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I know in my heart what happened and I feel comfortable with that. I'm not waiting for an answer -- I know what the answer is and I'm fine with it. I sleep good at night."

Earnhardt Jr. refused to discuss what he thinks happened. He did say his conclusions have not come from NASCAR because he has not been kept informed on the progress of the investigation.

Earnhardt was in third place, one spot behind his son, leading a second pack of cars when his Chevrolet slid down the track and made contact with Sterling Marlin's car. The hit sent Earnhardt's car shooting up the banking and into the wall at 190 mph.

An independent medical examiner who studied the autopsy photos said Earnhardt likely died when his head whipped violently forward during the collision.

I'm not discarding anyone's statement as fiction, but there are always going to be two sides. I believe the belt broke.
Earnhardt Jr.

That theory contradicted that of the speedway physician, who said he thought Earnhardt was killed when his chin hit the steering wheel -- which would not have happened had the seat belt not been broken.

Meanwhile, Earnhardt Jr. has started to come to terms with his father's death and his recent success on the track has helped. After finishing second at Daytona, Earnhardt Jr. struggled until the past four weeks.

He's finished 11th or higher in the last four races, and his third-place finish last weekend lifted him to 10th place in the standings.

"Finishing poorly added to the stress in the early stages," he said. "But it has gotten easier to deal with. I get sad less often when I think about him. I think about more pleasant memories when I think about him then when I did a few weeks ago."

One of those memories is of his father joining him in Victory Lane after Earnhardt Jr. won The Winston last May. He said he'll forever view that as the greatest moment of his career.

"My father coming to Victory Lane and not having an airplane to rush and get on, so he stuck around and we threw beer on each other and jumped around and hollered and just made fools of ourselves," he said. "I don't think I'll ever get that close to that feeling I had that night again."

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Second Guessing
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says there will always be second guessing in the death of his father, but he knows the truth.
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On the scene
Orange County EMT Tommy Propst tells his version of what happened at the site of Dale Earnhardt's crash.
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Dale Jr. speaks
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he will continue to support Mike Helton and NASCAR's conclusions.
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