He used to be an odds-on favorite at Talladega, where he's got five career victories.
But the racing has changed, the strategy is different, and Earnhardt hasn't won at Talladega since 2004.
He admitted Friday he doesn't like riding around in the back waiting to make a late charge to the front, and the unpredictability of the race makes it difficult to plot a plan.
"You really don't know what things are going to go down or what's going to happen," he said. "Sometimes it happens with the usual suspects and sometimes it's a surprise of even who would be involved in it. I've been on the receiving end of some wrecks here and I've started a few myself.
"So you just go out there and try to run as hard as you can and try to put yourself around people you like to work with and benefit from having people around you that you trust and that usually pays off."
It hasn't paid off for his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson, who has yet to finish a plate race this season. Johnson has two wins at Talladega, and Earnhardt pushed him to a victory here last year, but it's his eight DNFs that stand out on his resume.
Part of the problem may be Johnson's strategy of riding around in the back for much of the race — something Earnhardt said can cause problems.
"Any time you're cautious, you tend to get yourself into trouble," Earnhardt said. "And the guys that are a lot more aggressive seem to find themselves towards front of the mess when it all goes down and end up being the ones that cross the finish line with some type of reasonable finish."