And being mad in the car, he figured, is a good thing.
"You're going to have days where you get a little hot on the radio and I haven't really been hot on the radio in a long, long time," Earnhardt said Tuesday during a test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt, in the midst of a 62-race winless streak, had just cracked the top five in Sunday's race when NASCAR flagged him for speeding on pit road. He vented over his radio for several minutes, and snapped at crew chief Lance McGrew's attempt to calm him down.
Some die-hard listeners to Earnhardt's in-race radio speculated that Earnhardt was angry over McGrew, who at one point urged Earnhardt not to "lay down" the rest of the race — instructions that infuriated NASCAR's most popular driver.
Earnhardt quickly dismissed a potential driver-crew chief rift.
"When we're running pretty good and you can almost reach that top five, or see yourself almost in a position to get a win, and it gets snapped away from you that quick, man, it's hard to bite your tongue," Earnhardt said. "Running my mouth, that's my pop-off valve. It gives me a little bit of relief so I could get back to what I was doing. It's open for interpretation, I guess.
"Lance handled it pretty good. I was at no point mad at him. We haven't really gotten into it since we started working together over anything. So we've got a pretty good balance between our personalities to keep us from doing that."
The penalty dropped Earnhardt to 26th, but he rallied to finish seventh and moved up five spots in the standings. Although Earnhardt was second in the standings after the season-opening Daytona 500, his current points position is the highest he's been after consecutive races since he was eighth after Kansas in October of 2008. Team owner Rick Hendrick said following Sunday's race he's pleased with Earnhardt and the No. 88 team's progress, and Earnhardt agreed that he likes the current direction.
"I'm happy with how things are going in a positive manner and we're doing better," he said. "But we're still real thirsty to get better. We had a top-five car Sunday, but we want to be better than that."