Sterling Marlin was blazing down the track, part of a pack of cars chasing a checkered flag and a championship. Then a slight bump of cars set off a string of events and blame that he did not imagine possible.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed Sunday on the last turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500 car race. He slammed into the concrete track wall moments after making contact with Marlin's car at the head of a tightly packed quintet of cars fighting for position.
Marlin, speaking in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, said he has been bombarded with e-mail from fans blaming him for what happened.
"A lot of people were Dale Earnhardt fans and [are] upset," he said. "I mean, they are looking for somebody to blame. I've had drivers call me, NASCAR's called … and told me, 'Just hold your head up, you didn't do anything wrong.'"
‘It Was Just a Pure Racing Accident’
Marlin, who won the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying run last week by scooting past Earnhardt at the finish line, said he feels awful about what happened but that there was nothing he could do.
"It was just a pure racing accident, and that's all it was," said Marlin, a longtime friend of Earnhardt's and a back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995.
After bumping cars with Earnhardt, Earnhardt's car spun around and rammed into Kenny Schrader's car. Earnhardt then slammed into the wall going 180 mph and died instantly of massive head trauma. Marlin, the 1983 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, finished the race fifth.
The overwhelming amount of negative e-mail forced a temporary shutdown of Marlin's official racing Web site on Monday. The driver said he and his family also received threatening phone calls and faxes at his race shop in Mooresville, N.C., prompting the Chip Ganassi Racing team to station a policeman at the shop, The Associated Press reported.
Waltrip: Don’t Blame Marlin
Winning driver Michael Waltrip on Monday urged fans not to blame Marlin.
"Sterling didn't do anything wrong," Waltrip said at a news conference. "Sterling was simply racing, and when the checkered [flag] is waving, nobody's going to let off … I'm sure Sterling didn't know Dale would wreck or he would not have rubbed him."
Marlin, the son of Winston Cup legend Coo Coo Marlin, says it was pure luck that he survived Sunday's crash that unfortunately took Earnhardt's life. It was only about a month ago, Marlin recalled, when Earnhardt talked to him about the possibility of losing his life in a race.
"Dale said, 'If I ever get killed in a race car … I don't want nobody crying and moaning and groaning … It's what I love to do, and don't worry about it,'" Marlin said. "That's the way Earnhardt was, and when he buckled that seatbelt Sunday, he knew anything could happen."
Marlin, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., will race in Sunday's Dura-Lube 400 Winston Cup race in Rockingham, N.C.
"As far as Rockingham," he said, "I'd like to dominate the race and win it and dedicate it to Dale and his family."
ABC Radio and ABCNEWS.com's Tracy Ziemer contributed to this report.