Dale Earnhardt Jr. misses racing way more than he imagined, ‘and it’s getting worse’
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew he'd miss being behind the wheel after he retired from racing full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season. But he also thought those longing feelings would dissipate with time.
Turns out, not only was he wrong, but he said the opposite is actually happening.
"I really miss racing," Earnhardt said Sunday at Daytona International Speedway during a press conference before the season-opening Daytona 500. He was the honorary starter and waved the first green flag for the race, which lasted only 20 laps until rain hit the track and forced a postponement until Monday (4 p.m. ET).
"I really miss driving, and it's getting worse. I thought as I got out of the car and the further I got from my full-time career, the less that would bother me. But it actually is getting worse for some reason."
I didn’t practice. Just in my DNA. https://t.co/jvK1X8xhMe
So it's a good thing his one race a year in NASCAR's Xfinity Series is coming early in 2020 compared with past seasons.
Earnhardt will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for his own Xfinity team, JR Motorsports, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March. For his one-off races in 2018 and 2019, he had to wait until September at Richmond Raceway and August at Darlington Raceway, respectively. He finished fourth at Richmond and fifth at Darlington.
But his race this year is only five weeks away on March 21. New schedule changes for the 2020 season moved the championship race from Homestead to Phoenix Raceway, bumping the Miami-area track back several months.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 8 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway in 2019. (Photo: Sean Gardner, Getty Images)
"I really look forward to getting some seat time and smelling the smells and hearing the noises and just enjoying being in the car," Earnhardt said.
He's obviously excited about racing again, but running one race annually comes with plenty of challenges too.
"I'm nervous, I'll be honest," Junior admitted with a laugh. "Just being out of the car for a year, it's kind of tough jumping back in there and getting right back into it and understanding exactly where the limits are."
Now an analyst for NBC Sports, which broadcasts the second half of the 36-race Cup Series schedule, Earnhardt explained that missing racing and occasionally returning to the track help him in the booth. He said it helps him recall the mindset and emotions of a driver, which translates to better insight on TV.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner and current NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the honorary starter for the 2020 Daytona 500. (Photo: Terry Renna, AP)
But just because he's missing racing a lot more than he thought he would doesn't mean he's ready to add more than one race a season to his schedule. He said he's talked to a couple Cup Series teams about possibly testing a car because he doesn't know how the latest package feels with bigger downforce, but races are off the table.
"It's a healthy thing to miss it, want to do it," Earnhardt said. "I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. So I think one's plenty. One's probably more than I should be doing.
"I've got my wife and [daughter] Isla and all that. I should devote as much as I can to them. One's just perfect."
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