Dale Earnhardt Jr. ready for 2017 season to get here – Nascar
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked absolutely relaxed Wednesday morning, sitting in the single director’s chair on stage at the Charlotte Convention Center and meeting with the NASCAR national media for his first formal pre-season question and answer period. He seemed so comfortable, in fact, that when he was ushered off stage for the next phase of Media Day appointments he actually seemed a little surprised, maybe even … disappointed.
Not many NASCAR racers would admit missing the media obligations but Earnhardt said it was one of many aspects of his job the sport’s superstar realized he did indeed long for after being sidelined for the second half of the 2016 season recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
Earnhardt made the most of the brief time with reporters, explaining what he missed most about competition, talking about his high expectations for the upcoming season and even dropping a hint that he and his newlywed, Amy, may be planning to expand their new family soon.
At a time in his 17-year full-time Cup career when the two-time Daytona 500 winner and perennial championship contender is focused on returning to competition next month, he seemed equally as mindful — and grateful — of his life away from the track.
“Mentally, you have to make the decision if you want to keep racing and if you want to keep racing, you have to make the decision to be in 100 percent,” Earnhardt said. “This is the top, the elite series in motorsports in North America and if you’re going to be out there, you can’t do it without being in 100 percent. I had to answer a lot of personal questions of myself and really just buy in. All that was a big process and I’m really happy with what I’ve decided to do.”
And he was candid about the developments that have only enhanced his life changed him for the better, he feels.
“Getting married has been incredible,” Earnhardt said. “I wish I had figured all this out sooner. I’m frustrated with myself that I took so long to grow up. But I’ve got an amazing wife and she’s changed my life really. She’s helped me as a person become better on all fronts, personally and all my friendships and relationships how I treat people and obviously in my professional life helped me as a driver. It’s been great.
“I’m just hoping to enjoy what’s left of my career and hopefully I get to make the decisions on that myself as far as how much longer I race. Gonna start a family and all that good stuff too and have a lot of good things to look forward to and I’m really excited about my future.”
Earnhardt was thoughtful and reflective answering questions. He will have his first official Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series test in Phoenix next week after being sidelined since last summer in recovery.
He said that being out of the car absolutely changed his perspective.
“You do take your job for granted when you’re doing it every week,” Earnhardt said. “As a society, we get better and better at complaining. The drivers aren’t any different; we moan and complain about everything. But when you get a chance to step back and watch it … I got a chance to be at Dover and watch the drivers come in that morning for practice and it was an eye-opening experience.
“It was an out-of-body experience almost to watch all that happen. Looking at them and knowing that was me. I got to see the drivers from a different point of view and got to see the sport from a different point of view. Being out of the car made me anxious to get back in.
“To be honest, I’m happy to come back here and continue to compete. I got real close to not being able to compete and it being someone else’s decision whether I competed or not.”
Listening to Earnhardt speak and watching his expressions, it was clear his career and his lifestyle aren’t to be taken for granted. His time on stage was actually a gentle reminder to others and affirmation for him.
His desire to win hasn’t changed — if anything it has intensified. But his view of racing life and life, in general, has a new and improved perspective.
“People have asked me since I turned 40 when I would retire and all I wanted to do was make that choice myself,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know when I’m going to stop racing, but I want to able to make that choice and not have it made for me. All that stuff really showed me how much I have going for me and how fun this really is. You can make it really difficult or you can enjoy it. This is an incredible position to be in and it’s an awesome sport, and driving the cars is fun. Doing the photo shoots, doing the commercials and talking to the media, all those things are fun. But you can make it not any fun if you want to.
“As human beings, we have a tendency to do that. The grind, man, is so long. You’re doing it year after year after year, and it doesn’t seem like we had much of an off-season. You actually work harder in the off-season.
“I can see how you get wound up and burned out a little bit. I’m certainly not feeling that way right now, and I’ll be much more self-aware down the road trying to remember what this is and what position I’m in and not take it for granted.”